Without treatment, a child with ADHD may fall behind in school and continue having trouble with friendships. Family life may also suffer. Untreated ADHD can increase strain between parents and children. Parents often blame themselves when they can’t communicate with their child. The sense of losing control can be very frustrating.
Untreated ADHD can have lifetime consequences. Compared with the general population, individuals with untreated ADHD have higher rates of divorce and job loss. They also have higher rates of cigarette and drug addiction, and more driving infractions.
The good news is that effective treatment is available. With the right medical treatment, children with ADHD can improve their ability to pay attention and control their behavior. The right care can help them grow, learn, and feel better about themselves.
The goal of any type of ADHD treatment is to reduce symptoms and help the child function at a normal level. Treatment may include medication, therapy, family support, educational support, or a combination of these.
A major study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that a combination of medication and behavior therapy is often more effective than receiving only medication or only behavior therapy. Since individual needs vary, however, you should work with your child’s doctor to help find most effective treatment for your child.
Most children with ADHD benefit from taking medication. Medications do not cure ADHD. Medications can control ADHD symptoms on the day that the pills are taken.
For several decades, scientists have been studying neurobiological factors involved in ADHD. They know that biological substances in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, play a role in ADHD.
Medications for ADHD are wellestablished and effective. There are two main types: stimulant and non-stimulant medications.
Scientists have studied psychostimulants extensively, and doctors have been prescribing them for more than 60 years. More recently, non-stimulant medications have become available as alternatives. Scientists are continuing to research and develop new drugs for ADHD.
It is important to confer with your child’s doctor to help find the medication and dosage that will work best for your child. Different medications work for different individuals. Some of the newest medications—both stimulant and non-stimulant types—can last throughout the day. A single dose of a long-acting medication can control symptoms throughout the day and into the evening.
ADHD medications can have side effects. Before medication treatment begins, your child’s doctor will do a thorough health evaluation. The doctor should continue to monitor your child for side effects.
A majority of children who benefit from medication for ADHD will continue to benefit from it as teenagers. In fact, many adults with ADHD also find that medication can be helpful.
Therapy and Other Support
A psychiatrist or other qualified psychotherapist can help a child with ADHD gain a better self-image. The therapist can help the child identify his or her strengths and build on them. Therapy can also help a child with ADHD cope with daily problems, pay better attention, and learn to control aggression.
A therapist may use one or more of the following approaches:
Behavior therapy helps the family develop a plan to improve a child’s behavior. For example, parents can learn to use point systems or charts to reward good behavior. When a child becomes too unruly or loses control, families can use “time out” by having the child sit alone quietly for a short time to calm down. Therapists can help parents find ways to spend fun and relaxing time with their child. They can also help parents find opportunities to praise their child for appropriate behavior.
Talk therapy can help children with ADHD feel better about themselves. The child may talk with the therapist about upsetting thoughts or feelings and learn alternative ways of handling emotions. The therapist will try to help the child understand ways to change or better cope with ADHD symptoms, such as organizing schoolwork or dealing with emotional experiences.
Social skills training can help children learn more rewarding ways to play and work with other children. The therapist discusses and models social skills, such as waiting for a turn, sharing toys, or asking for help. A child might also practice skills such as perceiving another person’s facial expression or tone of voice and responding appropriately.
Parents may also learn ways to structure situations to help allow their children to succeed. For example, allowing only one playmate at a time might help the child stay calmer. If a child has trouble completing tasks, parents may learn to help the child divide a large task into smaller steps and praise the child after each step is completed.
Family support groups allow groups of parents with ADHD children to share their experiences and concerns. Support groups may also share information and referrals to specialists, and invite experts to speak.
What is ADHD?
How Common is ADHD?
Common Signs and Symptoms
Supporting School Success
The Teenage Years