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Howard Abikoff

An Analog Task that Didn't Quite Work

Posted on January 15, 2008

Howard Abikoff (bio) recounts an unsuccessful effort to design a useful task.


Now we took a stab at something else when we were developing our rating scales, and it's something that we haven't given up on completely. We need to go back to the drawing board, but I think the goal is still a reasonable one and something that we again need to revisit.

And very briefly what we wanted to try and do was to come up with an analog task that would enable us, we thought, to capture the way in which children with ADHD, who have been shown to have organizational impairments based on their scores on our organizational rating scales, could we come up with an analog task that would perhaps place the child in a situation that would reflect something that they might deal with on a regular basis, perhaps at home? And that the situation and the context would be one in which the child would be engaging in behaviors that would reflect organizational skills in general? That was our goal.

So what we did was we set up a room in our clinic so that it looked a bit like a child's bedroom without a bed, but in which we had furniture that you'd usually find perhaps in an elementary school child's own room. There was a desk, there was a chest of drawers, there was a bookcase, there was a chair, and then there was material. And the material would be the things you would usually find in a child's room: books, papers, toys, games, sports equipment, clothes, records, and anything else one might think of, except those materials were not piled up neatly and all stored away, far from it. They were scattered about, and perhaps actually it looked a bit like the way my own kids' rooms used to look like. But it was a messy room.

We asked the children to get that room in order, and we videotaped what they did. And we were quite interested in seeing, number one, could we develop such an analog task, which is capturing process as much as anything else, could we develop a task that would differentiate the way a child with ADHD would go about carrying out that task compared to typical children? That was number one. Number two, could we develop some measures that would capture the very process that the children were engaged in as they went about that task?

So on the surface anyway it seemed to be something that had ecological validity. We thought that that might be useful. On the other hand after a year's worth of efforts, we were not able to pick up the differences that perhaps were not there. And it may be that the task is not one that can generate the kind of information that we wanted. On the other hand it may be that we may have structured the task in way that made it too easy for the children. We're not sure. So what I'm sharing with you was a failed attempt to come up with an analog task.

In terms of the particular task that I just described, the analog room setting task, we did not ask the children afterwards what they thought about the task that we asked them to engage in. And in hindsight, I think it's something we should have done. We probably could have benefited from asking some post-assessment questions of the children. That might have yielded information that could have helped us as we went back to the drawing board.

So again, in hindsight, I'm sorry we didn't do that, but that is one thing I think, among many, that investigators should keep in mind as they're involved in development methods, be it for treatment or for outcome measures.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in September 2007.


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