A Florida State University researcher has opened a new clinic that will provide assessment and treatment services for Tallahassee-area families with children suspected of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But the approach will be a tad different from other clinics.
“Our goal is to do more than stop ADHD from impairing these children’s lives,” said Michael Kofler, assistant professor of psychology and director of the new clinic. “We believe these children can go from struggling to thriving.”
The Children’s Learning Clinic, housed in the Department of Psychology, will provide evidence-based clinical services to area families within the context of a research center. It will allow Kofler, a licensed psychologist, to not only see patients but also conduct research that could lead to new breakthroughs in how children with ADHD are treated.
A unique feature of Kofler’s work is its focus on looking at ADHD from a strengths-based perspective.
“Right now, we have strategies we can teach parents to help manage their child’s behavior,” Kofler said. “But the minute you stop using them, the effects wear off. What we’re trying to do is find new interventions that keep working after we’re done.”
Kofler and his team, which includes doctoral student Erica Wells, are looking at a number of different approaches to helping students. One approach is rethinking hyperactivity and looking at ways that it might help children with ADHD focus on school assignments in a positive way.
“Some behaviors that we view as negative may actually be purposeful, including hyperactivity,” Kofler said. “We all move around more to help us stay alert and focus. Next time you’re in a long meeting, watch as everyone starts shifting in their chairs and moving around after awhile.”
So, instead of being told to sit quietly in their seat, a student with ADHD might be encouraged to do his or her homework while standing, fidgeting, or sitting on an exercise ball.
“We want to praise them for doing their work,” said Kofler. “Not for whether or not they’re sitting still.”
Through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Kofler and his team are developing computer games that will allow children with ADHD to build skills and close learning gaps.
Wells, who taught middle and high school for six years, said figuring out ways to help children learn better would be a huge help for teachers struggling to get through to students with ADHD.
“Clear behavioral guidelines and a structured learning environment help,” Wells said. “But there is still much room for improvement in our suggestions for parents and teachers.”
The clinic, which is staffed by Kofler, Wells, and eight undergraduate researchers, offers comprehensive testing and fun breaks for boys and girls ages 8 to 12. In between short tests, children take breaks and play foosball or race radio controlled cars around the clinic.
“Most of the kids really enjoy their time with us,” Kofler said. “Then they go home and tell their friends they went to college.”
A few weeks after testing, the parents receive a full debriefing and comprehensive clinical report. Sometimes, Kofler said, the extensive testing reveals that the child does not have ADHD. Almost 40 percent of children thought to have ADHD are ultimately diagnosed with something else, such as anxiety, a learning disability, or no disorder.
Kofler, a new hire in the Department of Psychology, moved his clinic from the University of Virginia, where he previously worked as a professor and researcher.
During the first year at Florida State, Kofler estimates the clinic will see about 20 to 30 children, with that number growing as he is able to recruit more staff and graduate students.
Jeanette Taylor, chair of the Department of Psychology, said the new clinic will complement the research-based clinical resources that have already been developed in the department, while also moving the research forward.
“His clinic will provide valuable services to children and families in the community who are coping with childhood disorders like ADHD while also informing research into those problems,” Taylor said.