DENVER — 10-year-old Leo Krause can’t help but smile while snuggling with one of his two family dogs, Louie, a mini Australian Labradoodle. It’s one of the many strategies he uses to calm himself after being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD when he was 7 years old.
“It feels like it’s hard for me to focus sometimes. I just want to move around all the time, and it’s hard for me to sit still,” Krause explained.
He received help with his ADHD through a program that’s now free and online called "Unstuck and On Target." It was developed by researchers through Children’s Hospital Colorado to improve the executive functioning of elementary-aged school children with ADHD and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Navigating ADHD: The Unstuck and on Target program
A "game-changing" curriculum
Executive functions come from the frontal lobe of the brain and involve things like paying attention, problem-solving, emotional regulation, planning, impulse control and setting goals. When left unaddressed, challenges with these traits can create barriers to success for many children.
Leo’s mom, Jodi Krause, says the program has been a game changer for their entire family.
“Having a child who struggles with attention and having a child who struggles with anxiety can create obstacles that you want to be able to get ahead of, but as parents, we kind of react in the moment. So that’s really challenging,” she added, saying that the strategies taught in the Unstuck and on Target curriculum continue to help Leo function like any other 10-year-old boy. “A change in Leo from the program that I’ve noticed is that he’s way more willing to put into words the things that his body is feeling.”
Laura Anthony, Ph.D., is a psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and one of the researchers who developed the online curriculum for the program. It can be done in school with educators and at home with kids and their parents and/or caregivers
“We want all kids as they’re growing to be at their most optimum developmental trajectory. We want them to do and be their best,” she explained, adding that free access is the key. “From the beginning, we wanted to create a community-based program that would reach all the kids and families who needed it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between the years of 2016 and 2019, 6 million children from the ages of 3 to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD, while one in 44 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Kids with either Autism or ADHD have particular difficulties with executive functioning skills and [that’s why] we designed this intervention for them,” added Anthony.
Free to be himself
Leo told Rocky Mountain PBS some of the strategies he’s learned in the program include walking away from tense situations, taking deep breaths and thinking happy thoughts. His favorite coping mechanism? Squeezing a lemon when he’s feeling anxious.
“I feel a lot different. I’m able to calm myself down more,” he explained.
Jodi says these days Leo can be fully himself; a boy who’s compassionate and empathetic. A boy who loves his dogs, his family, friends, playing soccer, mountain biking and skiing.