Specific treatment for ADHD will be determined by your child's physician based on:
- Your child's age, overall health and medical history
- Extent of your child's symptoms and resulting impairments
- Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment for children with ADHD includes parental support and education in behavioral training, appropriate school placement and medication (typically psychostimulants).
Treatment may include:
Psychostimulants (also known as stimulants) are the most commonly used ADHD medicines. Although these drugs are called stimulants, they actually have a calming effect in people with ADHD. These medications are used for their ability to increase the level of chemicals in the brain that help the child to better maintain attention and exhibit greater self-control. They have been shown to provide the greatest improvement in the core symptoms of ADHD (inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity). Treatment with a psychostimulant is highly effective in 75 percent to 90 percent of children with ADHD.
Psychostimulants have been used to treat childhood behavior disorders since the 1930s. They have been widely studied. Stimulants take effect in the body quickly, work for one to four hours (in their short-acting forms; extended release formulations usually last two to three times as long), and then leave the body quickly.
Doses of stimulant medications need to be timed to match the demands of the child's schedule – for example, to help the child pay attention for a longer period of time and improve classroom performance at school, as well as to help with homework and other after-school activities which require age-appropriate attentional functioning and/or self-control. Current research suggests that the majority of children with ADHD who respond to medication benefit most from taking it daily, given its positive impact not just at school but also in behavior at home and other social settings.
There are several different ADHD medicines that may be used alone or in combination. Your healthcare provider will decide which medicine is right based on your child’s symptoms and needs. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions on how to take ADHD medicine. Some ADHD medicines have side effects. If your child has side effects, contact your healthcare provider right away. Most side effects of stimulant use are mild, decrease with regular use and respond to dose changes.
Antidepressant or other psychotropic medications may also be administered for children and adolescents with ADHD (often but not always in combination with a psychostimulant or other medication) to help improve attention while decreasing aggression, anxiety and/or depression.
Parenting children with ADHD may be difficult and can present challenges that create stress within the family. Classes in behavior management skills designed to address the special challenges associated with parenting a child with ADHD can help to both improve the child's functioning at home as well as help reduce stress for all family members.
Training in behavior management skills for parents usually occurs in a group setting which encourages parent-to-parent support. Behavior management skills may include:
- Use of “time out”
- Point systems
- Contingent attention (responding to child with positive attention when desired behaviors occur; withholding attention when undesired behaviors occur)
Teachers may also be taught behavior management skills to use in the classroom setting. Training for teachers usually includes use of daily behavior reports that communicate in-school behaviors to parents.
Behavior management techniques tend to improve targeted behaviors (such as completing school work or keeping the child's hands to himself/herself), but are not usually helpful in reducing the child's broader difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.