parent stress from adhd
June 6, 2014

How Technology Can Help Stressed Out Parents Of Children With ADHD

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is characterized by symptoms such as an inability to focus on tasks, being overactive and several behavior control issues. It can manifest in just one symptom or a combination of all. The causes of ADHD are still not fully understood, but one thing is certain - the condition, which has seen a marked increase in percentage of diagnoses over the last decade, is not going anywhere.

Pharmaceutical and psychological therapies have been developed to treat symptoms of ADHD, but the day-to-day interaction between a parent and a child with the condition can be excessively stressful on both parties. A novel approach has been developed to assist the caregivers of children with ADHD in achieving best parenting practices while dealing with different manifestations of the condition.

The system, developed by computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Microsoft Research, is called ParentGuardian. The hardware for the stress measurement and management system consists of a wearable sensor that detects stress and an app-enabled smartphone and tablet that delivers research-based strategies to mitigate stress when detected.

Prior to receiving a stress-relieving technique to one of the two devices, the sensor sends the data to a dedicated server that reads the incoming information and, via an algorithm, decides on the best technique to suggest. This is the first system of its kind to both sense stress and deliver intervention strategies in real-time.

Developed by Laura Pina, a PhD student in computer science at the University of California, San Diego and former intern at Microsoft Research, the system's interventions are derived from Parenting Behavioral Therapy which has been regarded as having been effective for both parents and children suffering from ADHD.

While ParentGuardian focuses on the immediate, real-time delivery of Parent Behavioral Therapy interventions, studies show the therapy offers many long-term beneficial effects for both parent and child. For instance, it has been shown to increase both self-awareness and self-control in the child while, at the same time, significantly reducing stress levels experienced by the parent. In a traditional setting, parents are taught the techniques. However, it has been found that in the heat of a moment parents often might abandon those strategies. This is where ParentGuardian comes to the rescue.

“Instead of focusing on an individual in need we are looking at how to build and design technology for the family as a whole and what’s beneficial for them,” Pina said. “We wanted to help parents to be the parents they want to be.”

In designing the system, Pina worked with 10 parents over a period of three months. Once the prototype was ready, the parents used it at home for two weeks, wearing the stress monitors between the hours of 6pm and 10pm – a time of peak stress. These are the hours when children are working on homework and other activities and the parent is also responsible for providing the evening meal. After the two week test, the parents rated the effectiveness of ParentGuardian at 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 7.

The first week of the prototype testing phase was primarily a period where the parents were training the app by wearing the wrist sensor while, at the same time, they self-reported via the smartphone the times when they were feeling stressed. This allowed the algorithm to identify a baseline for each participant.

Moving into week two, the parents continued to wear the wrist sensors. Each time the ParentGuardian server received data that the wearer was feeling stress, a management technique was sent to their devices. As the program was developed at Microsoft Research, the devices used were Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 and the Microsoft Surface tablet.

Following techniques advocated by Parent Behavioral Therapy, stressed parents would receive prompts at a rate of no more than once every half hour. From 'Fill your lungs with air; Take three full, deep breaths' to 'You are your child's role model. What do you want to teach?'. The prompts are meant to temporarily draw a parent out of the stressful situation for momentary reflection.

Additionally, parents would receive another style of prompt every 90 to 120 minutes throughout the day. Examples of these prompts, like 'For every one bad thing you say, find three good points to highlight' and 'Model what you want to see' are designed to reinforce a parent's thoughts on the parenting style they want to embody.

Moving forward with ParentGuardian, Pina and colleagues have applied for a grant to conduct a much larger-scale study on parents of children with ADHD. This will, according to Pina, show how effective the overall design comports to real world use. “System design has to be very sensitive to the context of using it in real life, with real people,” she said.

The results of the initial study were recently presented at the 8th International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare in Germany.