Specific treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 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
- Your child's tolerance for specific medications or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Major components of treatment for children with ADHD include parental support and education in behavioral training, appropriate school placement and medication. Treatment with a psychostimulant is highly effective in 75-90% of children with ADHD.
Treatment may include:
Psychostimulant medications are used for their ability to balance chemicals in the brain that prohibit the child from maintaining attention and controlling impulses. They help stimulate or help the brain to focus and may be used to reduce the major characteristics of ADHD, listed above.
Psychostimulant medications commonly used to treat ADHD include the following:
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta)
- Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- Pemoline (Cylert)
- A mixture of amphetamine salts (Adderall)
Psychostimulants have been used to treat childhood behavior disorders since the 1930s. They have been studied widely. Stimulants take effect in the body quickly, work for one to four hours, and then leave the body quickly. Doses of stimulant medications need to be timed to match the child's school schedule – to help the child pay attention for a longer period of time and improve classroom performance.
The common side effects of stimulants may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach aches
- Rebound activation (when the effect of the stimulant wears off, hyperactive and impulsive behaviors may increase for a short period of time)
Most side effects of stimulant use are mild, decrease with regular use, and respond to dose changes. Always discuss potential side effects with your child's physician. Antidepressant medications may also be administered for children and adolescents with ADHD 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 for parents can 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 the following:
- Use of time out
- Point systems
- Contingent attention (responding to the 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 usually are not helpful in reducing overall inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity.