MAILED: Nov. 29, 2000
In an effort to determine school professionals knowledge, attitudes and experience related to the use of stimulant medication to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, 10 students and four faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire studied the increasing use of psychoactive medications to treat children with ADHD.
Results of the year-long interdisciplinary research study, which was funded by a grant from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research/Lancy, were published in the September Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly.
During the summer of 1999, researchers developed a survey instrument that asked general education and special education teachers, school psychologists, school nurses and speech and language pathologists to provide information regarding their observation of the rate of increase in medication use in their schools. The questions also reflected their beliefs on the effects of stimulant medications on students classroom achievement, behavior, and social-peer and social-teacher interactions. The surveys for all professions shared a core of identical questions as well as items specific to the discipline.
The researchers administered 1,719 surveys to nurses across Wisconsin and to speech and language pathologists, general and special education teachers and school psychologists nationwide. The results from the 702 returned surveys revealed that the school professionals displayed areas of misunderstanding in their knowledge about ADHD and the effects of stimulant medication as a treatment.
Dr. William Frankenberger, professor of psychology and the director of the Human Development Center, said the study found professionals were overly aware of the behavioral effects of the medication, which can be seen as positive. However, there was less awareness of long-term and side effects of the medication.
Frankenberger also indicated there has been a great increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD. An important finding was that teachers were identified as the professionals most likely to make the initial referral of a child for the assessment of ADHD.
We knew the number of referrals were high, Frankenberger said. However, we were surprised at just how high the referrals were.
The concern with teachers being the first to make the initial referral was that there was not enough information given about the benefits and risks of children taking long-term medications.
The study also showed that professionals correctly believed the stimulant medication helped children with ADHD do better on seatwork and homework assignments, improve grades in school, and improve behavior and attention in school. However, they incorrectly believed stimulant medications would help the children evince long-term gains in academic achievement.
Frankenberger has been interested in the topic of ADHD for a number of years. He began his first research of ADHD in 1987 and has continued with several projects since. He said he has noticed an increase of children with ADHD.
Ive seen the transition from seeing no children with ADHD to seeing children with any kind of problem being diagnosed as ADHD, Frankenberger said.
The research group consisted of the following people from four disciplines: Frankenberger worked with senior Carey Farmer, Eau Claire, and May graduates Laura Parker, Madison, and Joseph Cermak, Racine, in the area of psychology. Dr. Linda Carpenter, professor of communication disorders, worked with graduate students Zena Olsen, Owatonna, Minn., Jonathan Schmitz, Stanley, and May graduate Kristy Osborne, Ham Lake, Minn., in the discipline of communication disorders. Dr. Elaine Wendt, chair and associate professor of family health nursing, worked with senior Rebecca Holtz, La Crosse, and senior Pollyann Scholze, Eau Claire, in the area of nursing. Dr. Vicki Snider, professor of special education, worked with senior Tracey Busch, Algoma, and May graduate Linda Arrowood, Wausau, in the area of special education.
Frankenberger said he was pleased their work was published in the Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly.
It is quite an honor and distinction for the researchers and the university as a whole, Frankenberger said. It really reflects the values we have at UW-Eau Claire. It also reflects positively on UW-Eau Claire for student and faculty collaborative research.
Frankenberger also said he was honored to receive the national NCUR/Lancy grant, which helped to fund the research project. Of the more than 100 universities that applied, only six received grants.
We received the grant in the initial round of applicants, Frankenberger said. That certainly reflects on UW-Eau Claires national reputation for research.
Members of the research team have submitted two more articles for publication in professional journals and are preparing three others for submission. Frankenberger also was quoted in a recent USA Today story about the abuse of stimulant medication in schools.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 29, 2000