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ADHD Treatment in Children: Addressing Medication Concerns

Parents' dilemma to treat ADHD with medication

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood diagnoses. Previously, I wrote a blog on strategies to manage ADHD. One of those strategies was appropriately treating symptoms with medication. As a clinical child psychologist, I often encounter parents who have a child with ADHD. These parents are faced with the decision to use therapy and medication as a way to improve their child’s functioning at home and at school. Although it may seem like an easy decision for most, some parents struggle with the thought of giving their child medication. In my discussion with parents, I emphasize that “best practice” is to treat ADHD with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. While medication is used to treat ADHD, data from the CDC indicates that less than 50 percent of children with ADHD take medication. 

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The most common type of medication used for treating ADHD is called a "stimulant." Although it may seem unusual to treat ADHD with a medication considered a stimulant, it actually has a calming effect on children with ADHD. Many types of stimulant medications are available. A few other ADHD medications are non-stimulants and work differently than stimulants. For many children, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn.

While medication used to treat ADHD is helpful it is important for parents to know that children experience the effects of ADHD medication differently. One child might have side effects with a certain medication, while another child may not. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding one that works for a particular child. As a result, it is extremely important for parent to monitor their child and express their concerns to the doctor prescribing the medication.

Below is a list of commonly reported side effects:   

  • decreased appetite
  • sleep problems
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • mild stomachaches or headaches
  • children also may have a “personality” change such as appearing "flat"

Even though some children experience side effects while taking ADHD medication, these tend to decrease over time.

Parents’ role in managing ADHD

Often before a child is diagnosed with ADHD parents may feel frustration, blame, and anger as a result of the problem behavior. Parents and children may need special help to overcome these feelings. Psychologist and mental health professionals can educate parents about ADHD and how it impacts a family. Sometimes, the whole family may need therapy. Therapists can help family members find better ways to handle disruptive behaviors and to encourage behavior changes. Support groups may also help parents and families connect with others who have similar problems and concerns. Groups often meet regularly to share frustrations and successes, to exchange information about recommended specialists and strategies, and to talk with experts. One resource for locating support groups is CHADD. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), is a national non-profit organization that provides education, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD. Although ADHD can lead to difficulties for children, with therapy and medication (as appropriate) they can be happy and successful.

 

Copyright 2013 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

You can follow Dr. Turner on Twitter @DrEarlTurner for daily post on psychology, mental health, and parenting. Feel free to join his Facebook group, “Get Psych’d with Dr. T” to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

 

References:

ADHD Graph Source: Division of Human Developmental, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 2013 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml

Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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