BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While working with parents of children with
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the University
at Buffalo, Gregory A. Fabiano noticed something was missing: the
Fabiano, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of
Education, made the discovery while still a graduate assistant at
the UB Center for Children and Families, which runs a summer
treatment program that has helped more than 2,500 children with
behavioral, emotional and learning problems. The program uses
sports as a way to teach children peer-relationship skills, Fabiano
"I knew a lot of the dads in that program, because they would
show up early to watch their kids on the soccer fields or the
softball fields and we'd chat it up when we were out there,"
recalled Fabiano, who teaches in the counseling, school and
educational psychology department.
"But then they would take their child and go home in the one
car, and then the mom would drive up in another car and go to the
parenting group," he added. "I thought 'There is something wrong
with this picture.'"
To find out why fathers of children with ADHD weren't
participating in treatment programs, or why some initially
participate, but then drop out soon after, Fabiano turned to
research literature on the subject and found…nothing.
"I was surprised to find there were no studies on dads with kids
with ADHD and so I thought this would be a good area in which we
could try to do something. My dissertation was trying out a
parenting program specifically for fathers, using sports as a kind
of hook to get the dads interested and the kids too," Fabiano
His new research program, designed for children 6-12 years of
age, includes two formats: a control group of fathers and children
who receive traditional, evidence-based treatments for ADHD
families and another group that receives the same, plus a sports
element, in this case, soccer games. This second group is dubbed
COACHES, or Coaching Our Acting-Out Children: Heightening Essential
Traditional treatments include teaching parents strategies to
deal with the disruptive behaviors that are hallmarks of the
disorder. Adding the COACHES element, Fabiano hoped, would result
in increased participation for the fathers and improved
relationships with their children.
"We thought for a chronic disorder like ADHD where these fathers
aren't going to be dealing with these problems for a couple weeks
or a couple months, but for the child's entire life, the treatment
has to be well-liked, palatable and engaging," Fabiano
The results, he said, have been remarkable.
"We had huge differences on things like drop-out rates for both
the dad and the child. The dads in the COACHES group were more
likely to try out the homework, which was a pretty big
accomplishment," Fabiano said. "They also rated the treatment as
Another surprise was the lack of tension between fathers and
players, and between the fathers themselves, when it came to
controversies on the playing field.
"We were a little nervous about the dads, because you read the
newspaper and you see fathers getting into fights with the referee.
But we have not had that. The dads seem to be genuinely enjoying
the activities, perhaps because the children have struggled in
other settings and are successful in this one," Fabiano said.
Also, the children themselves seemed to be tension-free while
playing, a sharp contrast to their previous experiences with
sports, he said.
"Families with children with ADHD tell us lots of horror stories
about their children failing at team sports because they weren't
paying attention when the ball is coming toward them or they have a
low frustration threshold, so they stomped off the field if they
made an error," Fabiano said.
The best result by far was the sense of community that the
program offered the fathers.
"In groups, the dads said things like 'I didn't realize other
dads had kids like this,' so there is sense of isolation among
these parents. Maybe putting fathers together who have children
challenged in sports takes things in a positive direction as
opposed to a negative direction that makes a father defensive
because he sees his child struggling when other kids aren't,"
At each meeting, while the children practice soccer skills, the
fathers meet to learn parenting skills, such as "how to pay
attention to the child's good behaviors, give clear commands, use
time outs well," Fabiano said.
Now recruiting families for another session of COACHES funded by
the National Institutes of Mental Health, Fabiano said the program
will stick with soccer for now because "it spreads the kids out so
the dads can get right out on the field and monitor their kids very
well. There's also lots of action, unlike baseball, where you might
be standing by yourself for 20 minutes and not have anything come
Success on the field means a greater chance of success at home
"Soccer engages the kids, who we want to be behaving well when
the parents are trying out new skills. We don't want parents trying
out a skill during a child's most difficult-to-manage behavior," he
said. "If they succeed, they are more likely to try it out at home,
when the kids are doing homework or are supposed to clean their
For more information about the COACHES and other treatment
programs available to families of children with ADHD, contact
829-2244 ext. 124, or visit the Center for Children and Families
Web site at http://www.ccf.buffalo.edu.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue
their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate,
graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the
University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American