Parents Say Drugs, Changing Schools Best for ADHD Kids
Which treatments work best for kids who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? A recent Consumer Reports survey reveals that parents rank drug therapy as the most beneficial, followed by changing schools.
Approximately 4.5 million children ages 5 to 17 have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it affects 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with the condition, and the diagnosis is significantly higher among non-Hispanic, mainly English-speaking children. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the condition usually becomes evident in preschool and early elementary school years, with the median onset being seven years.
Consumer Reports Survey
The Consumer Reports Health online survey gathered information from 934 parents of children (younger than age 18) who had a diagnosis of ADHD. Information about treatment was gleaned from 785 cases that reported visiting a professional for ADHD treatment within the past year, and 676 cases that reported trying drugs for their children within the past three years.
Overall, 67 percent of parents said drug treatment (stimulants and non-stimulants) was the most effective therapy for their children, and 84 percent said they had given their child drugs at some point. The average age of children who were given drug treatment was 13 years. The other treatment choice, coming in at second place, was having their child transferred to a different school, reported by 45 percent.
Parents from the survey said that children who had taken medications had slightly better outcomes than children who did not take drugs. However, while ADHD drugs helped children perform and behave better at school, they were less effective with behavior at home, self-esteem, and social relationships. Thirty-five percent of parents said drugs helped the most at school, while drugs were only very helpful for 26 percent of kids when it came to behavior at home, 19 percent when related to social relationships, and 18 percent when considering self-esteem.
Forty-five percent of parents said that transferring their child to a school that was better equipped to help with ADHD was a beneficial strategy. Other nondrug approaches parents found helpful included giving children one instruction at a time (39%), engaging a private tutor or learning specialist to work with their child (37%), and providing a structured schedule of activities for their child (35%).
More than half (58%) of children had seen two or more treatment providers within the last year. When it comes to coordinating treatment for their child, Consumer Reports Health suggests that parents (1) make sure they have copies of all medical, psychological, and testing records associated with their child’s ADHD; (2) ask for a baseline measure of their child’s behavior and functioning when going to a new professional for their child; (3) keep a list of every professional who has provided treatment for their child; (4) record all the treatment strategies they have tried and their child’s responses to each one; and (5) visit an ADHD treatment center for help if they are unable to coordinate their child’s treatment.
Parents’ Feelings about ADHD Diagnosis
Some surprising comments by parents, which were discussed in a related blog by Dr. Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports’ medical adviser, included that only 22 percent of parents say that having a child labeled as having ADHD was problematic. In fact, 8 percent of parents reported that getting accommodations for standardized tests was a reason they sought an ADHD diagnosis for their child.
The parents also seemed to have some ambivalence about giving their child medication, as only 52 percent of parents strongly agreed that given a chance to do it over again, they would give their kids medications, while 44 percent said they wished there were other ways to help their child.
Drug treatment is the preferred treatment of parents for the millions of kids in the United States who have ADHD. ADHD drugs (e.g., amphetamine and methylphenidate-based medications, non-stimulants such as atomoxetine), however, are associated with a variety of side effects and are not always effective. Nondrug approaches, including transferring children to another school better equipped to handle ADHD, is a popular treatment approach and one which perhaps, with time, will not be necessary as more and more schools are better able to deal with ADHD.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Consumer Reports Health survey
National Institute of Mental Health