Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 1:30pm

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, has quietly become one of America’s most critical public health crises. The incurable disorder is responsible for upward of $52 billion in health care costs every year—nearly $17,500 per individual, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, children are being diagnosed with the disorder at a record pace. ADHD diagnoses have increased an average of 3 percent annually since 1997.

But helping children and families identify—and manage—the symptoms during early school years may help offset the problems associated with the disorder as they get older, says George DuPaul, professor of school psychology.

Two years ago, DuPaul and colleague Lee Kern, the Iacocca Professor of Special Education, found that a series of non-medicinal interventions geared toward children between the ages of 3 and 5 significantly improved their social and academic behavior. The 135 children who participated in the study had all shown signs of having ADHD, using criteria established by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

This year, the tandem extended their research of the same children to include a wider set of 40 measures. Again, they found the children responded favorably to tailored interventions. Teachers reported a sharp decrease in students’ oppositional and noncompliant behavior, for example.

Remarkably, the percentage of children in the multiyear study meeting the DSM-IV criteria for ADHD declined from 100 percent two years ago to about 62 percent today.

“We have a lot to learn about children who are the most vulnerable and at-risk for ADHD,” says DuPaul. “But intervening with appropriate supports, especially in the home, can go a long way in helping children manage and treat their ADHD symptoms.”