With the cooperation of Johnston (NC) county schools and parents, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is launching a pioneering effort to pinpoint what factors cause some children to get attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. ADHD is sometimes also called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or hyperactivity. Children with ADHD often have difficulty in school and in their social relationships, and these difficulties often last through adulthood.
NIEHS principal investigator Andrew Rowland says there are no good estimates of the number of youngsters who have the problem in the general population -- much less what factors may cause it.
"To help find out, we picked Johnston County because it is diverse," Dr. Rowland said, Awith parts that are rural and parts that are urban-suburban, and with many different types of people. It also helps that Johnston County is close to us but the most important factor was that the school administration was interested in our project and supported it whole-heartedly once we agree to work with them to help give teachers extra training for working with ADHD children.
Vann Langston, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Johnson County Schools, said, "Teachers spend a lot of extra time working with youngsters with ADHD yet often feel frustrated that they are not being successful. As this project helps teachers work better with ADHD, it may help all the children in our classrooms."
The NIEHS researchers say there have been studies of ADHD at clinics and among small groups of children before, but this is the first to look at a wide range of factors -- in pregnancy, infancy and childhood -- in a large, diverse community. "This makes this study important, nationally, and may give us some clues about how to prevent some types of ADHD," Dr. Rowland said.
"And I'm pleased we won't just study the kids and then say goodbye," Dr. Rowland continued. "This project will show county teachers, parents and doctors what ADHD is and how to work better with kids that have it."
The study will ask teachers a series of questions about each first to fifth grade Johnson county child whose parents agree. (Letters from both Dr. James Causby, Superintendent of School, and NIEHS are going out to the parents of the 4,000 children in grades one to five in eight schools covered in this year's study. The other eight grade schools in the county will be covered the next school year.)
The children themselves will not be tested or questioned. The researchers will ask the parents -- not the children -- a series of questions about occurrences when the child was not yet born, at birth and thereafter. The questions may run from, "Was the pregnancy difficult?" to "How much TV is the child permitted to watch?" Parents will also be asked about any family history of ADHD.
Mr. Langston, Assistant Superintendent for instruction and the schools' coordinator on this project, said, "We're hoping for the widest cooperation. This study has the potential to discover factors that may prevent ADHD. That would be a boon to county parents -- and to parents everywhere, whether or not they have children with the problem. The fact is, children with ADHD take a lot of their teachers' and parents' time, and that's time they can't spend on their other children."
The researchers also hope that close to 100 percent of parents agree to be part of the study because, Dr. Rowland says, "Having a high participation rate is very important for making sure the project is scientifically valid." If parents have questions, Dr. Rowland or project manager Karen Catoe will be available throughout the study at 1-800-948-7552, extension 126, as will Assistant Superintendent Langston at 934-6031. Grade school principals may also be able to answer parents' questions.
Selected for this year's study are Cooper, Corinth Holder, East Clayton, West Clayton, Glendale-Kenly, Micro-Pine Level, Selma and Wilson's Mills. The other eight schools will be in the second year of the study.
An information sheet from the project for parents says the privacy of students will be maintained:
"At the end of the project, we will tell you how common ADHD is in the group of children in the study. However, results about your specific children will be given only to you."
It used to be believed that ADHD disappeared when children became teenagers but doctors are finding that ADHD symptoms continue to cause problems for many people throughout their adult lives.
Johnston County is southeast of Raleigh, while NIEHS is to the west of Raleigh in Research Triangle Park. NIEHS is one of the National Institutes of Health.