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Research Communications

New center focuses on helping children with behavioral disorders succeed in school 

Sept. 7, 2012
By Andrea Gibson

Ohio University is now home to one of the few research centers in the nation to focus on the science and practice of school-based interventions for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other emotional, behavioral and academic difficulties.

The Board of Trustees has approved the establishment of the Center for Intervention Research in Schools (CIRS), which is led by clinical psychologists Julie Owens and Steven Evans. The faculty members have a strong track record in attracting federal funding for studies that explore how public schools can adopt practices that can help youth with behavioral disorders succeed in the classroom.

The new center will help faculty researchers secure more funding, attract new graduate students and staff, aid recruitment of study participants and raise the national profile of the university’s program.

Although the field of school-based interventions for ADHD has grown rapidly over the past 15 years, currently, there are fewer than half a dozen centers focusing on research and training in school mental health in the United States, Owens and Evans said. Only two others are located in a clinical child psychology program.

“I can’t think of another program that has our focus on disruptive behavior disorders. Our group is really unique nationally,” said Evans, a professor of psychology.

Evans has attracted more than $4 million in federal funding for three projects that explore school interventions for teens with ADHD. He soon will begin analyzing data from one study that enrolled 600 high school students at 55 high schools in five states. The Challenging Horizons Program, which explores interventions at the middle-school level, has enrolled three cohorts of 100 teens each at sites around Ohio. Evans and colleagues are exploring the effectiveness of an after-school program that offers help with academic and social skills and includes participation by parents. And in March, he and Owens began a new project that will identify malleable characteristics of children with ADHD that contribute to impairments in social and academic functioning.

Owens recently attracted $1.5 million in federal support for a study on how teachers can use behavioral report cards to help students with ADHD make positive changes in the classroom. She’s the director of the Youth Experiencing Success in School (Y.E.S.S.) Program, a school-based mental health program designed to increase support services to students, families and teachers. Elementary school-age children are eligible to participate, and the Y.E.S.S. program currently is in its 11th year of implementation in the Logan-Hocking Local School District.

The center recently recruited two new faculty members, Assistant Professors of Psychology Brian Wymbs and Fran Wymbs, to expand the research program. Brian Wymbs is focused on how ADHD sparks interpersonal relationship dysfunction in families. He’s studied how children with ADHD can strain marriages, as well as how ADHD in adulthood can increase the risk of perpetrating intimate partner violence. Fran Wymbs is focused on how to engage families in both clinic- and school-based interventions. Drawing on consumer decision-making research, she has surveyed families on how they prefer to participate in children’s mental health treatments and services.

“We’re building depth in the child psychology program,” said Owens, an associate professor of psychology, of the new hires.

In addition, the Ohio University psychology researchers have partnerships with faculty in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and College of Health Sciences and Professions, as well as with colleagues at almost a dozen major research universities.

Since Owens recruited Evans to the university four years ago, the researchers have doubled their number of grant submissions, pooled office space, attracted top graduate student prospects and have been able to hire staff who can coordinate research assistants, students and study participants. They credit their department, college and Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity for supporting and advancing these efforts.

The co-directors anticipate that, in the next few years, the new center designation can help them sustain research funding, attract other faculty members, create postdoctoral fellow positions and offer graduate students enhanced  training in research and practice in school mental health.

More information about the center is available online at http://www.oucirs.org/.