New research program adopts alternative stance to common disorder
Most often, a childhood diagnosis of ADHD is treated only as a problem to be fixed, often with medication. An important new research program at the Curry School takes an alternative perspective. It focuses on unlocking the capacity and potential of children with ADHD.
“Approaching ADHD from a strengths-based perspective is novel,” says Michael J. Kofler, who recently joined the faculty to establish this line of research. “Nonetheless, it is a perspective that is intrinsically appealing to me, and one that I believe will lead to new discoveries and interventions that will improve long-term functioning for these children.”
Formerly the associate director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida, Kofler has some significant ADHD research already under his belt. His most intriguing work with the UCF team challenged the prevailing view that hyperactivity is a purposeless deficit in ADHD. They found that inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, instead of being core behavioral symptoms, may actually be secondary features of the disorder. The underlying mechanism appeared to be an underdeveloped working memory.
“We found that all children—not only children with ADHD—tripled their motor activity when working memory demands increased.” Kofler says.
Kofler, who recently received the Young Scientist Research Award from the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), will conduct his work in conjunction with Youth-Nex, the Curry School’s Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.
“The goal of positive youth development is not only to decrease adverse outcomes, but also to develop strengths and help children thrive,” Kofler says.
His work here will begin with a systematic exploration of resiliency in individuals with ADHD. He hopes to identify key characteristics of individuals with ADHD who not only avoid the adverse outcomes associated with the disorder but thrive in spite of, or because of, their ADHD symptoms.
He believes his prior work fits well within a strengths-based framework and that simultaneous consideration of both their strengths and weaknesses will lead to the most robust interventions for children with ADHD.
The impetus for this research program was the visionary foresight of a family directly impacted by ADHD. Mark Galant is a 1980 Commerce grad who calls himself a serial entrepreneur. His wife Cindy is a 1980 College grad who majored in biology. She serves on the Curry School Foundation board of directors.
Their son Tyler, now 26, was diagnosed with ADHD in sixth grade. Soon afterward, Mark was also diagnosed. After years of watching Tyler struggle with tedious school tasks, the Galants were excited to see a huge impact on his academic success when he gained access to portable technologies that had calendars, reminder alarms, and easy note-taking capabilities.
Mark spent several years as a commodity floor trader after U.Va. and loved the constant noise and motion of the trading pit. He credits his ADHD for his ability to change gears quickly and juggle multiple tasks, traits he considers largely responsible for his entrepreneurial successes.
After being introduced to the Curry School when their daughter Kendall was considering a teaching degree, the Galants discussed their experiences with Dean Bob Pianta. They devised a plan to catalyze research on the capabilities of children with ADHD and the potential of technology to support children’s success. The couple then backed the plan with a $340,000 gift.
“We know that Curry is on the forefront of effecting meaningful change in education,” Cindy says. “And as alumni, we find supporting the University by funding projects we care deeply about incredibly fulfilling.”
Their seed funding will support Kofler’s work as he addresses a full start-up agenda this year. His initial steps will include building a research team, establishing a clinical research lab, and initiating development of a computerized, adaptive training program to improve working memory.
“Through a process of basic and translational research we will identify key factors associated with ADHD-related successes and challenges and then develop interventions to foster these strengths,” he says. “I am highly optimistic that we can foster improvements in basic cognitive processes that underlie all children’s capacity to thrive academically and interpersonally.”
By Lynn Bell