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ADHD Medication Treatment Associated With Higher Academic Performance

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
ADHD Medication Treatment Associated With Higher Academic Performance

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who take medication to treat the condition tend to do better in math and reading compared to their peers who also have ADHD but do not take medication, according to data from a national survey. The NIMH-funded study was published in the May 2009 issue of Pediatrics.


ADHD, which is characterized by poor concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, impulsivity and other symptoms, can adversely affect a child's academic performance. Compared to their peers without the disorder, children with ADHD tend to have lower grades, lower math and reading scores, and are more likely to repeat a year or drop out of school.

Richard Scheffler, Ph.D., of the University of California Berkeley, and colleagues analyzed a sample of 594 children diagnosed with ADHD who were part of the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999, a U.S. Department of Education survey. The children were surveyed for various issues five times between kindergarten and fifth grade. The researchers focused on the children's math and reading scores to determine if medication use for ADHD was associated with academic achievement during elementary school.

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Results of the Study

The study found that students with ADHD who took medication had math scores that were on average 2.9 points higher and reading scores on average 5.4 points higher than their unmedicated peers with ADHD. This equated to gains that were equivalent to the progress typically made in one-fifth of a school year in math, and one-third of a school year in reading. Improvements in reading, however, were seen only in students who had been taking medication for at least two rounds of the survey. The authors suggest that the different findings between math and reading scores may point to underlying differences in the process of learning.


The findings echo previous studies that have found that use of ADHD medication can improve children's attention and memory skills, which can help them do better in school. In addition, the improvement is notable because early academic success often predicts later school progress, said the researchers. However, they caution that the gains are not enough to eliminate the achievement gap typically seen between children with ADHD and those without the disorder.

What's Next

The findings support the need for long-term studies designed to better understand the relationship between medication use and academic achievement in children with ADHD. The authors also conclude by noting that more research is needed on combining medication with behavioral interventions to improve the school performance of children with ADHD.



This research directly contradicts the longest run study on live families. Studies like this are usually extrapolated from previously collected data (meta-analysis). The MTA (Multi-modal Treatment of ADHD Children) followed thousands of real families as the typically use medication. They found, after 3 years, that no significant differences occurred academically, behaviorally, or socially between medicated and non-medicated kids. However, medicated children were prone to stunted growth both in height and weight. One of the authors of the Multi-modal Treatment of ADHD Children (MTA) said, and I quote, "I think that we exaggerated the beneficial impact of medication in the first study. We had thought that children medicated longer would have better outcomes. That didn't happen to be the case." Once we understood the limitations of medication (it teaches nothing), we hired an ADHD coach to help with our son, Alex. He's not medicated. Our coach advocated us restructuring our parenting approaches. She also had us use two different programs. We used www.adhdnanny.com to help us schedule routines and to provide consequences when the routine wasn't met. It's definitely for younger kids, but it really helped us manage. We also used www.playattention.com. It's a neat program that allows Alex to control their games like Harry Potter. He uses his mind to finish tasks and improve memory. It's a long road, but we're doing well. It's good to have someone sort through the clutter to get help.