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Research Communications

Ohio University researcher receives $3 million to study intervention for kids with ADHD 

Two federal grants fund psychology professor’s work on school behavior, academic problems

ATHENS, Ohio (Jan. 14, 2010) — With the support of two federal grants totaling more than $3 million, Ohio University Professor of Psychology Steven Evans is examining how to help children with serious behavioral disorders succeed in school.

Evans, who joined the Ohio University faculty in June, recently received a $1.25 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study interventions for middle-school age students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The award is part of a larger, $2.5 million cooperative initiative that includes researchers at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

 Steve Evans

Steve Evans (Photo by Erica McKeehan)

Within the last year Evans also attracted $1.8 million in support from the Institute of Educational Sciences — part of a larger, $10 million grant led by Lehigh University — to tackle the issue at the high-school level.  The funds from both grants will support staff salaries, graduate research assistantships, salaries for undergraduate students and stipends for participants and collaborating professionals at the schools, Evans said.

Children with serious ADHD are at strong risk for delinquency and substance abuse and have a high rate of failing or dropping out of school, Evans said. Many don’t receive assistance for their problems, and interventions that are provided vary considerably across schools. Some students may receive accommodations from teachers such as extra time on tests and assignments or assistance with assignments, or other reductions in expectations.

“These well-intended services do very little to help most students, and in fact may make them worse in the long run,” Evans said. “Very few studies have been conducted on what helps middle-school students with ADHD outside of the work we’ve done. This is one of the biggest studies to date on the topic.”
 
By the end of the study, the team will have enrolled about 310 middle-school students at sites in Athens, Logan, Lancaster and Cincinnati.

Evans and his colleagues are testing whether a new five-year program geared at middle-school students, the Challenging Horizons Program, can address the academic and social challenges faced by young people with ADHD. He and Josh Langberg, the lead researcher at the University of Cincinnati, developed the program and will evaluate it by randomly assigning participating students to attend an after-school program, receive in-school counseling and special attention from teachers and advisors, or serve as part of the control group, which receives no special care.

Students enrolled in the after-school program meet with research staff for about two hours per day twice per week during the school year. Researchers provide help with academic skills, such as organizing materials, completing assignments and improving study skills and note taking, as well as social skills such as interpreting social cues, acknowledging others’ perceptions of their own behavior and modifying behavior, Evans said. The after-school intervention includes participation by parents.

The in-school counseling group receives similar assistance from teachers during the school day. The control group may continue to receive services in the community or at school to target their problems associated with ADHD, but do not participate in additional services through the experimental program, Evans explained.

Findings from the initial stages of the research suggest that the program can help high-school and middle-school age students avoid the common pitfall of academic decline in the second semester, Evans said. In a paper recently published in the journal School Psychology Review, the research team reported that the Challenging Horizons Program significantly reduced the failure rate in a sample group of 79 students in grades 6 and 7.

“It is unrealistic to say that these students are going to drastically improve their performance,” Evans said.  “What we are trying to do is eliminate the crash, the point at which the student fails.”
The team’s earlier studies also have shown that the program can help the students get along better with peers and adults, and can reduce the need for stimulant medication, he added.

The new study hopes to confirm these findings in a larger pool of students and determine the characteristics of the students who succeed in one version of the program or another.

Contacts: Steven Evans, (740) 593-2186, evanss3@ohio.edu; Director of Research Communications Andrea Gibson, (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.