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2018 APS Congress

The 2018 APS Congress will be held in Sydney from Thursday 27 to Sunday 30 September 2018


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Treating sleep and anxiety may be key to better outcomes for children with ADHD, expert says

Targeting sleep and anxiety problems in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may improve their symptoms and outcomes, a psychology expert will tell the APS Congress, held in Melbourne, 13-16 September.

Dr Emma Sciberras, a clinical psychologist senior lecturer in psychology at Deakin University and honorary research fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI), says psychological strategies to treat sleep and anxiety problems are being trialled to see if they improve ADHD symptoms, such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, while boosting children’s daily functioning and their overall quality of life.

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, affecting about 300,000 young people in Australia. Research shows anxiety affects up to 64% of children with ADHD while sleep difficulties affect up to 70% of children with ADHD but the two common problems are often not identified.

“Behavioural interventions might be tried first if symptoms are mild and not causing too much of a problem. We do know that if symptoms are extreme that stimulant medication can be considered too, which can help to manage the main symptoms of ADHD,” she says.

“We are using data from longitudinal studies to understand what happens to children with ADHD over time, and will then use that information to develop new behaviourally-focused interventions that can complement medication-based approaches.”

Dr Sciberras leads the first Australian-focused ADHD study, the Children’s Attention Project, which aims to map outcomes for about 500 Victorian children with and without ADHD, examining how they develop from the age of seven into adolescence.

In previous research, the Sleeping Sound with ADHD study, a randomised controlled trial was conducted with 244 families. The trial used interventions in sleep hygiene and behavioural strategies that targeted the individual sleep problems of children with ADHD.

“The children in our intervention group had not only improved sleep but also had improved symptoms of ADHD, they had improved quality of life and broader daily functioning, and we also found that they had improved working memories,” Dr Sciberras says.

MCRI Associate Professor Harriet Hiscock is now leading a team of researchers conducting a trial to see whether training a group of Victorian and Queensland paediatricians and psychologists to deliver the sleep-focused interventions in ‘real life’ clinical practice will achieve the same results.

Dr Sciberras says an adapted form of the renowned evidence-based psychological talk therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), is being examined as a treatment for anxiety in children with ADHD in another trial, The Calm Kids study.

“We are trying to make it easier for kids with ADHD to engage with, so we use lots of visuals and use physical activity breaks to help children to re-energise during the session, and those modifications are working really well,” she says.

“That’s really important - often because of the kinds of symptoms that children with ADHD present with, it might be assumed that they might not be able to engage in that type of talking therapy but really what we’re showing so far is that if you can make these kinds of adaptations, children with ADHD can engage really well.”

Dr Sciberras will speak about the latest Australian research in children with ADHD at the 2016 APS Congress, held in Melbourne from September 13 - 16, 2016.

For more information, or to arrange an interview call the APS Media team on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email media@psychology.org.au. Find the APS Media team on Twitter: @AustPsych

The APS is the largest professional organisation for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 23,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to people’s lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.