Parenting courses help reduce ADHD symptoms among children, study shows

Findings show benefits of investing in early intervention, says Minister for Children

Children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make significant improvements in behaviour if their parents receive a special training programme, according to a study.

As many as one in 20 children in Ireland – mostly boys – are considered by experts to be at risk of the disorder.

An international research team, led by NUI Maynooth, has completed a four-year evaluation of a parent and child training programme known as Incredible Years. It emphasises positive affirmation rather than punitive measures to help children with emotional and behavioural difficulties

The findings show that children whose parents underwent the 20-week training programme made significant gains in reduced hyperactivity and inattentiveness. It also found these parents used significantly fewer forms of harsh discipline and what it described as improved parental instruction.


Their children displayed improved social skills several months after the training programme had been completed.

The study also suggests that using parental training programmes can reduce ADHD- type symptoms without the use of medication.

As many as 85 per cent of children with ADHD have received some kind of medication to treat their symptoms, according to research.

Intervention impact
Parents interviewed as part of the research were very positive regarding the impact of the intervention.

“It made me more aware of what was going on for a child. It just makes you more aware of what the child wants and maybe that is why the child gets angry and aggressive,” the mother of a six-year-old told researchers. “By the time I left, it was like I was getting a new child going home.”

ADHD is a commonly diagnosed behavioural disorder among children and is associated with poor attention, overactivity and impulsive behaviour.

While most healthcare providers accept ADHD is a disorder, there is heated debate in the scientific and medical community around how it is diagnosed and treated.

The Incredible Years programme, which was introduced to Ireland by the not-for-profit group Archways, combines parent, child and teacher training designed to prevent and treat emotional and behavioural difficulties in children.

The study’s findings suggest these types of parental training courses may be an important first-line of treatment for children with the kinds of behaviour associated with ADHD.

The research published yesterday is based on a study of 45 children with ADHD symptoms and their parents. More than two-thirds of parents were from disadvantaged areas.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said she was greatly encouraged by the outcome which showed the importance of providing early intervention services.

“There is more and more research showing that if you intervene early, you do the right thing by the child and use resources more effectively.

“That’s why we’ve allocated an extra €40 million to roll out extra area-based approaches in disadvantaged areas.”

Research has show that while medication has been shown to help with some symptoms of ADHD, there are persistent ethical issues over its long- term use with young children.

Early intervention
There has been a shift over recent years toward a greater emphasis on early intervention and using medicine as a last resort.

The UK’s National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, for example, now recommends parent training programmes as a first intervention for children with attention deficit disorder symptoms .

The study’s author say there is a clear need to invest in further research on evidence- based programmes for vulnerable groups of children such as those with ADHD and children in care.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent