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Home > Research Articles > The Youngest ADHD Sufferers: Combination Of Behavior Management, Ritalin Being Tested On Preschoolers

The Los Angeles Daily News

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

February 5, 2003

(The Los Angeles Daily News) -- Some nights, your mind races so fast you can't fall asleep. No matter how hard you try to still your mind, the thoughts and impressions swirl like snowflakes.

That's what Suz-Anne Weggesser envisioned four months ago as she grappled with her son's diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"I'd taught him to calm down, to go !ital!shhhh!off! from his head to his body," said Weggesser, a 27-year-old Ventura resident. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. His mind is racing 24 hours a day, and he's only 5. That's when I started thinking how exhausting (it would be) if he really cannot control this and it goes on all day long."

Not long after the diagnosis, Weggesser enrolled Noah in a clinical trial at UCLA testing the safety and effectiveness of Ritalin in preschool-age children. UCLA is one of several sites around the country participating in the National Institutes of Health study. For Weggesser, a single mother of two, part of the appeal was the 10-week behavior management workshop included in the study.

About 50 families have gone through the workshop so far. About 25, including Weggesser and Noah, have since moved into the medication phase. Many of the remaining 25 felt the workshop gave them the strategies they needed and decided to drop out, said James McCracken, professor of child psychiatry who is directing the UCLA study.

"If the behavior has improved so much, then we wish them on their merry way," McCracken said. "It's interesting and encouraging. It suggests preschoolers will benefit from a combination of approaches."

Every Thursday, the parents gather around a table at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute to learn such tactics as when to praise, when to ignore, when to call time-outs and how to use voice, touch and eye contact. Cynthia Whitman, associate director of UCLA's Parenting and Children's Friendship Program, teaches the class and also makes weekly phone calls to answer any questions and give pep talks.

"We understand the importance of parent training and how effective it is in changing bad habits," Whitman said. "That's what we call bad behaviors - bad habits. It won't erase the symptoms of ADHD. It's genetic, and it's there all of your life."

At a recent workshop, Whitman plays a video and has the parents comment on various scenarios. In one, a mother pauses in her telephone conversation and yells at her daughter to turn down the volume on the television. Whitman stops the tape and asks for reactions.

The parents are quick to respond. The mother shouldn't have yelled. She should have set the receiver down and walked into the TV room. She didn't explain to her daughter beforehand that she was expecting an important call. She didn't thank the daughter when she complied.

"It's an easy one," Whitman agrees.

The parents also share their difficulties and triumphs from the previous week. Weggesser tells them about the rewards chart that she created. Noah receives stars for completing tasks such as brushing his teeth, getting dressed and sitting up straight at the table. The stars earn him both daily and long-term rewards.

"This is another form of positive attention," Whitman says. "A star chart with tangible rewards."

"There were a couple of times I wanted to take away a star so bad," Weggesser jokes, adding, "So far we've earned chocolate milk and a movie with mom."

Much of what the parents learn in the workshop sounds like common sense, Weggesser said. But it helps to receive reassurance from Whitman and support from other parents learning to cope with children with ADHD.

"They've taught me about getting the household under control," Weggesser said. "I'm telling all my friends about it. I think every parent, with or without (a child with) ADHD, could benefit from a parenting class."

Copyright 2003 The Los Angeles Daily News. All rights reserved.