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4. Non-Pharmacological interventions

4.2 Cognitive-behavioural intervention approaches

The term ‘cognitive-behavioural interventions’ is used to refer to a broad range of approaches that use cognitive and/or behavioural interventions to minimise the day-to-day impact on functioning from ADHD symptoms. While a reduction in ADHD symptom severity may occur as an indirect result of these interventions, the greatest impacts are likely in broader functioning and well-being. It is also noted that cognitive-behavioural interventions play an important role in addressing co-occurring conditions for people with ADHD (see section 2.2).

The studies identified from evidence reviews and summarised below include one or more components of:

  1. Education and information on the causes of ADHD and its impacts on functioning
  2. Environmental modifications to promote a positive, predictable and structured environment
  3. Behavioural modification approaches to help minimise the functional impact of ADHD
  4. Psychological adjustment and cognitive restructuring.

The components of these interventions relevant to ADHD are summarised in Box 4.

The studies identified involved intervention components delivered directly to the person with ADHD, and/or delivered as ‘Parent/family training’ to parents or primary carers who are supporting a child or adolescent with ADHD. For children under 5 years and children aged 5–17 years, many of the interventions identified have been placed under the subcategory of ‘Parent/family training’ and include guidance on positive parenting approaches.

Some of the ‘Parent/family training’ interventions also include direct interventions for children and adolescents with ADHD. For adults, some studies identified in the review included specific intervention techniques such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy, whilst others included a broader set of cognitive behaviour therapy techniques. These have been noted where appropriate.

It is also noted that other types of cognitive-behavioural intervention approaches are sometimes used with people with ADHD. However, only RCTs that met the inclusion criteria for the guideline were included.

4.2.1 Parent/Family Training

Parent/family training refers to interventions aiming to help parents to optimise parenting skills to meet the additional parenting needs of children and adolescents with ADHD, through parent training delivered directly to parents (or primary carers).

4.2.2 Cognitive-behavioural intervention

Cognitive-behavioural interventions play an important role in addressing co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depressive disorders in children and adolescents with ADHD.  View recommendations for children, adolescents and adults.

Box 4. Example components of cognitive-behavioural interventions

Education and information on the cause and impact of ADHD

Environmental modifications

Involves quality psychoeducation as outlined in section 2.3. It also involves assisting the person to understand and recognise how ADHD symptoms contribute to their day-to-day lives and experiences (both positive and negative) including:

  • cognitive processes that may be implicated in the experience of symptoms
  • fluctuation of symptoms and difficulties due to the influence of factors like stress, sleep, exercise and hormones (for women)
  • environment factors present during particular types of experiences, such as stressors, elements of personal interest or novelty, and interpersonal dynamics
  • the positive and negative impacts of any compensatory measures and coping strategies the person has developed over time.
Involves adjusting the environment (home, school and/or work, social settings) to maximise the chances of success for the person with ADHD. This could include preventing or removing challenges likely to result from ADHD symptoms, or enabling increased used of personal strengths and interests.

  • Modifications can be designed and/or implemented by the person with ADHD themselves, or by others who are in a supportive role, and can involve modifying:
  • expected tasks and routines
  • the surrounding physical space, including its sensory elements
  • how others communicate and engage with the person with ADHD.

Behaviour modifications to help minimise the impact of symptoms and maximise functioning

Psychological adjustment and cognitive restructuring

This may include:

  • introducing strategies to help compensate for cognitive difficulties
  • optimising use of cognitive strengths
  • managing and supporting emotion regulation
  • improving social communication, problem-solving and self-advocacy.
Involves adjustment of cognitive and emotional processes that are less conscious and less intentional. The targets of intervention are often the secondary impacts of ADHD symptoms that can develop over time, and treatment needs may include:

  • grief processing and adjustment to diagnosis
  • skills development for stress management and adaptive coping
  • communication, problem-solving and self-advocacy skills
  • support with addressing interpersonal and relationship difficulties
  • development of self-concept, including self-efficacy, self-esteem and identity
  • support for situational anxiety and depression symptoms
  • support for any co-occurring mental health or neurodevelopmental disorders.

Next 4.3 Cognitive Training