Intervention response among preschoolers with ADHD: The role of emotion understanding

Intervention response among preschoolers with ADHD: The role of emotion understanding

Hare MM, Garcia AM, Hart KC, Graziano PA.

J Sch Psychol. 2021 Feb;84:19-31.

doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2020.11.001.


Commentary* by Dr. Margaret Weiss: A better understanding of the relationship between emotional recognition and understanding, emotional regulation, executive function and ADHD symptoms may help us understand how change in one domain spills over to impact change in the other domains.


Emotion recognition/understanding (ERU), which is the ability to correctly identify emotional states in others as well as one’s self, plays a key role in children’s social-emotional development and is often targeted in early intervention programs. Yet the extent to which young children’s ERU predicts their intervention response remains unclear.

The current study examined the extent to which initial levels of ERU and changes in ERU predicted intervention response to a multimodal early intervention program (Summer Treatment Program for Pre-Kindergarteners; STP-PreK). Participants included 230 young children (Mage = 4.90, 80.0% male) with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who participated in the 8-week STP-PreK. Children’s ERU was measured via a standardized behavioral task.

Similarly, standardized measures of academic achievement (Woodcock-Johnson-IV), executive functioning (Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders-Task), and social-emotional functioning (Challenging Situation Task) were obtained pre- and post-intervention. Parents and teachers also reported on children’s behavioral functioning pre- and post-intervention.

Children with better initial ERU made greater improvements in academic, executive functioning (EF), and social-emotional domains, along with decreases in inattention symptom severity. However, pre-intervention levels of ERU were not associated with improvements in parent/teacher report of hyperactivity, oppositional defiant disorder, and overall behavioral impairment.

Lastly, changes in ERU only predicted improvement in EF, but not any other school readiness outcomes. We provide preliminary evidence that initial levels of ERU predict intervention response across school readiness domains in a sample of preschoolers with ADHD.

 * Abstracts are selected for their clinical relevance by Dr. Margaret Weiss, Director of Clinical Research, Child Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard University. Her commentary reflects her own opinion.  It is not approved or necessarily representative of the CADDRA board.


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