Reading intervention program takes ADHD research to the classroom

While other kids her age were learning to sound out words and read beginner books, Mikayla Crutchfield lagged behind.

She was easily distracted. She wasn’t completing first-grade homework. Her grandmother, Rolanda, chalked it up to misbehaving.

But Rolanda Crutchfield found help for her granddaughter in the form of a Cincinnati Children’s research study. She enrolled Mikayla in a 16-week reading intervention program that helped the second-grader improve her reading grade from an F to an A.

“She was embarrassed about her reading,” Rolanda says. “She didn’t want to read out loud in the classroom. Now she’s eager to read.”

Guiding treatment decisions

It turned out that eight-year-old Mikayla had ADHD, which was contributing to her problems with reading. Now, she is one of more than 200 second- through fifth-graders participating in a study that will evaluate the best way to help kids with ADHD and reading problems improve their reading skills.

The five-year, $2.7 million study, taking place at Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, is in its third year. It is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

After being screened at school, children in the study receive a free ADHD evaluation and are randomly assigned to receive ADHD intervention only (which includes behavioral strategies for parents and medication for the kids), reading intervention only (which includes 64 sessions with a reading tutor), or both.

Data such as details of Mikayla’s academic success after receiving reading tutoring may help guide future clinical treatment decisions for children with both ADHD and reading problems, says Leanne Tamm, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology and researcher leading the project in the Center for ADHD at Cincinnati Children’s.

Scientists researching ADHD doubt that medication alone is enough to improve reading skills when children suffer from ADHD and reading problems, says Jeff Epstein, PhD, Director of the Center for ADHD at Cincinnati Children’s.

“Though medications can be effective at improving ADHD symptoms in children,” Epstein says, “additional interventions are often needed to address the wide range of impairments and problems often seen in children with ADHD.”

Mikayla’s outcome in the study puts evidence behind the theory that kids with ADHD and reading problems need specific reading instruction.

Boosting family’s confidence

Rolanda Crutchfield says the program taught her a few things as well. Besides discovering that Mikayla had ADHD, she realized Mikayla wasn’t deliberately misbehaving when she didn’t follow directions. She learned that Mikayla needed redirection to stay focused.

Becoming more involved helped her change the course of Mikayla’s academic future. “I asked a lot of questions,” Rolanda says. “I got a lot of paperwork from Cincinnati Children’s and Mikayla’s doctor. They helped me read about and understand ADHD. This program helped get me to where I needed to be to keep her on track.”

Reading has become one of Mikayla’s favorite things to do. She has a collection of books she treasures. She likes to sit with her grandmother and read aloud, sounding out each syllable.

“I can read and I can concentrate,” Mikayla says. “I feel good about myself.