Research on early intervention for ADHD and the lifelong benefits it can have continues to grow with a study published during the summer of 2020.
“This is the first published study to show that a broadly implemented, early childhood prevention program can have positive effects on them through the next generation,” says lead author Karl Hill, PhD, director of the Problem Behavior and Positive Youth Development Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The study analyzed data collected from the children of former participants in the Raising Healthy Children program during the 1980s. The former participants are now adults and parenting their own children.
“Previous studies have shown that childhood interventions can demonstrate benefits well into adulthood,” Dr. Hill says. “These results show that benefits may extend into the next generation as well.”
Early treatment in one generation benefits the next
Dr. Hill and his colleagues analyzed the data from 182 children with parents who had been part of the Raising Healthy Children program. They found these children had improved early childhood functioning, lower teacher-rated behavioral problems, higher teacher-rated academic skills, and lower child-report risks for risky behaviors and drug use.
ADHD symptoms in adults can impair parenting skills. Parents who have an ADHD diagnosis are highly likely to have children who themselves have ADHD. Because of symptoms in both parents and children, often families with both parents and children who have ADHD struggle, and the children are at higher risk for social and academic failures. The study demonstrated that early intervention had the effect of lowering those risks for the adults and their children because the parents had received the intervention when they were young.
“Our results suggest these programs, by delivering cross-generational effects, may be working even better than we thought,” says coauthor Jennifer Bailey, PhD, assistant director of the Social Development Research Group at University of Washington.
Effective treatment includes behavioral approaches and medication management
This study follows a previous study indicating the inclusion of medication in children’s treatment plans can have specific benefits, including lower risk of developing common co-occurring conditions.
Medications for ADHD can help to improve a child’s ability to focus on educational materials and stay on task, as well as to follow directions and better participate in friendships and social activities. Researchers say addressing ADHD symptoms with medication not only improves academics and social behavior but also helps to prevent other problems that are related to co-occurring conditions.
“Treating ADHD can help children avert some of the serious complications associated with ADHD,” says lead author Joseph Biederman, MD, chief of clinical and research programs in pediatric psychopharmacology and adult ADHD for Massachusetts General Hospital.
Understanding the benefits of treatment
Treating ADHD has many benefits, which can include helping a person to live longer. Researcher Russell A. Barkley, PhD, reports in a 2018 study that treating ADHD can help a person not only avoid developing co-occurring conditions but better manage chronic health conditions. Managing one’s health better can add nine to 13 additional years to one’s life.
“Our research shows that ADHD is much more than a neurodevelopmental disorder, it’s a significant public health issue,” says Dr. Barkley. “In evaluating the health consequences of ADHD over time, we found that ADHD adversely affects every aspect of quality of life and longevity. This is due to the inherent deficiencies in self-regulation associated with ADHD that lead to poor self-care and impulsive, high-risk behavior. The findings are sobering, but also encouraging, as ADHD is the most treatable mental health disorder in psychiatry.”
Proper treatment of ADHD symptoms can help a child succeed academically, improve friendships and social relations, and improve family life. The protective benefits include protecting and developing a healthy self-image and confidence, along with avoiding substance use, disruptive behaviors, and early sexual activity. Teens who employ medication as part of treatment have better driving records and fewer car accidents.
Learn more about treating ADHD in children:
- Treating Childhood ADHD
- Parenting a Child with ADHD
- Parent Training and Education
- Early Intervention