As a psychologist who treated children with disruptive behaviors, Brendan Andrade,
PhD, was concerned that all of
these patients had similar treatment
plans despite a variety of presenting
“I knew there were different
reasons why someone could be
disruptive, and I wanted to understand
the biological and emotional
markers that would allow us to better
personalize the intervention,” says
Andrade, an assistant professor in
the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto in
In September, he received $10,000 from APF’s John and
Polly Sparks Early Career Grant to study this issue. The grant
supports early career psychologists conducting research in
the area of intervention and treatment for serious emotional
disturbance in children.
Andrade will use brain imaging to investigate the structure
of the amygdala and frontal cortex — the parts of the brain that
process and control emotions — as well as the pathway that
connects these two brain regions. The participants are ages 6
to 12, and most have been diagnosed with oppositional defiant
disorder, conduct disorder or ADHD. He hopes to pinpoint any
changes in the brain that occur — or don’t occur — as a result
of evidence-based treatment, which typically includes parent
and child components to build emotion regulation, problem-solving and social skills.
Five to 15 percent of school-age children suffer from
disruptive behavior disorders, says Andrade, and they often
have difficulty with oppositionality, aggression, conduct and
“I hope that by understanding their psychopathology and
brain function, we can predict which kids are more likely to
benefit from which treatments,” Andrade says. “Ultimately, my
desire is to spur innovation for kids who are not benefiting as
much from treatment.”
Reaching victims of trauma
Nearly two-thirds of children are
exposed to trauma, yet many of
them never receive treatment.
Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD,
received a $17,000 Sparks grant to
evaluate a community-based method
of helping these children.
“Kids are often referred to clinics
for help, but financial limitations,
stigma, transportation and wait lists
are common barriers to accessing
treatment in these settings,” says
Santiago, an assistant professor in
clinical psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.
School-based interventions have the advantages of being
free, convenient and less intimidating because children are
typically accustomed to programs in the school setting, she says.
Working with colleagues from Lurie Children’s Hospital
of Chicago, Santiago is evaluating the Bounce Back program
designed by Audra Langley, PhD.
The 51 elementary-age children in Santiago’s study have
experienced trauma such as violence in the community or
home, car accidents, upsetting medical situations or separation
from a parent as a result of deportation. Their symptoms
range from intrusive thoughts and bad dreams to difficulty
concentrating and stomach pain.
The Bounce Back intervention involves 10 weeks of
group sessions and three individual sessions with the school
counselor and child; parents are invited to come to these
individual meetings. The children learn skills to help them
identify their feelings, manage their reactions, relax their
bodies and think more accurately and positively about
situations in their lives.
“The most exciting part is seeing kids get treatment who
would not otherwise receive care,” Santiago says. “I love
watching them experience a significant reduction in symptoms.
Helping kids at these younger ages is important because it will
better prepare them to cope with stress in the future.”
— Heather Stringer
American Psychological Foundation
Two psychologists win John and Polly Sparks Early Career Grants
to study interventions for disruptive behavior and trauma.
APF funds key research on children