Behavior Problems and School Success

by Stacey

Two new studies shed some positive light on irksome behavior problems in young children. According to this article in the NY Times, one study showed that kindergartners who are identified as troubled do as well academically as their peers in elementary school. The other study found that children with attention deficit disorders suffer primarily from a delay in brain development, not from a deficit or flaw.

In one study, reported in the journal Developmental Psychology, an international team of researchers analyzed measures of social and intellectual development from over 16,000 children, the article says. Kindergartners who interrupted the teacher, defied instructions and even picked fights were performing as well in reading and math as well-behaved children of the same abilities when they both reached fifth grade, the study found.

In the other study, researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health and McGill University, using imaging techniques, found that the brains of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder developed normally but more slowly in some areas than the brains of children without the disorder, the article says. The disorder, also known as A.D.H.D., is by far the most common psychiatric diagnosis given to disruptive young children; 3 percent to 5 percent of school-age children are thought to be affected.

Doctors said that the report, being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps to explain why so many children grow out of the diagnosis in middle school or later, often after taking stimulant medications to improve concentration in earlier grades.

[G]overnment psychiatric researchers compared brain scans from two groups of children: one with attention deficit disorder, the other without. The scientists had tracked the children — 223 in each group — from ages 6 to 16, taking multiple scans on each child.

In a normally developing brain, the cerebral cortex — the outer wrapping, where circuits involved in conscious thought are concentrated — thickens during early childhood. It then reverses course and thins out, losing neurons as the brain matures through adolescence. The study found that, on average, the brains of children with A.D.H.D. began this “pruning” process at age 10 ½, about three years later than their peers.

The article says that about 80 percent of those kids with attention problems were taking or had taken stimulant drugs, and the researchers did not know the effect of the medications on brain development. Doctors consider stimulant drugs a reliable way to improve attention in the short term; the new study is not likely to change that attitude.

This all seems like good news for kids. It’s good to know that kids are learning what they need to know even if they’re wiggling and protesting along the way. As for ADHD, seems like it would be a relief to know there’s a good chance your child will outgrow it over time. The article says that three out of four kids with the disorder grow out of it.

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Filed under boys, child development, drugs, education, family, fears, girls, kids, mental health, parenting, preschool, psychology

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