Marquette Research IN BRIEF
Improving ADHD treatment for Latino children Almost 10 years ago, a school social worker contacted Dr. Alyson Gerdes, an associate professor of psychology who directs Marquette’s Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder Clinic. The social worker wanted to know: Could Gerdes work with a couple of Spanishspeaking families? That simple question launched Gerdes’ research in a new direction. Gerdes has since studied mental health disparities in Milwaukee’s large Latino population and created culturally appropriate diagnostic tools and interventions for Latino children with ADHD. “I think it fits very well with Marquette’s
Illustration by James Steinberg
mission of social justice and trying to make state-of-the-art treatment available to all families,” Gerdes says. “I think we have a lot to offer the Latino community that wasn’t available before.” An estimated 5 to 9 percent of school-age children suffer from ADHD, Gerdes says. Though ADHD affects Latino children at least as much as the population as a whole, there had been little research on those families’ needs. Most ADHD research studies involve middle-class Caucasian children, notes Gerdes, whose work has been published in the Journal of the Abnormal Child and the Journal of Attention Disorders. Latino children are also less likely to be diagnosed and to receive help for mental health disorders. Although Gerdes speaks only a little Spanish, she works with Spanish-speaking graduate students and has developed community connections with Latino churches and schools. Together, they have translated and validated some of the diagnostic tools used with ADHD children. Along the way, Gerdes discovered that some tools aren’t culturally valid. For example, she noticed that many Latino students were referred for psychological assessment by teachers, not parents, and learned that Latino families are more likely to see their child’s behavior as part of their personality instead of as a problem. So instead of the traditional focus on symptoms, she and her graduate students designed a new measure around functional impairment, asking questions such as “Is your child having peer problems in the classroom?” and “Is your child having trouble getting homework done?” Time outs, a mainstay of traditional ADHD treatment plans, were another idea that didn’t translate well. “The whole concept of time out is something that our Latino families don’t really understand,” Gerdes says. “They don’t really get why somebody would do this.” So she found a tool that does appeal to many Latino parents: natural consequences. For example, if a child resists getting dressed in the morning, send him to school in his pajamas (with his clothes in his backpack, of course). Gerdes, who has funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, will test the modified treatment plan with Latino families in a pilot study this spring. “For me, the real question is not only does the modified treatment work, but is it better?” she asks. “Because it takes a lot of work and time to modify treatment, and if it doesn’t outperform standard treatment, then there’s really no point in doing it.” — NSE
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