Were you making hats using Magic Loop, Traveling Loop, or circular needles to knit in the round? Or were the hats flat patterns with seams?
If you're using circs for hats, you could start out working on them using the circs and then switch to your DPNs. That would eliminate the whole first row twisting problem.
Another option might be to work a few rows flat (back and forth) and then join in the round and begin using your DPNs. Sewing up a side seam that is a half an inch is no biggie!
I think eventually you will get the hang of not twisting your first row of stitches. Just be sure that the knots at the bottom of the needle are all on the inside of the circle (technically, I guess it's a square at this point, isn't it?).
Using more "sticky" needles (bamboo or wood) really helped me get the hang of DPNs. At first I was using some metal ones, and things were all just slip and slide all the time!! I'm not positive, but the grippy, sticky needles might help you control ladders, too. You might try a set of bamboo needles (Clovers are nice) and see if they help.