Treatment Options for ADHD

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on January 23, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on January 23, 2014

Treatment Options for ADHD

There’s no known cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But there are a number of options that can help those with the condition effectively manage their symptoms. Treatments range from behavioral intervention to prescription medication. In most cases, medication alone is an effective therapy for ADHD. However, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that including other options is important.

ADHD Medications

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), data collected in 2011 indicated that approximately 6 percent of children in the United States are taking medication for ADHD. Medication use is highest among children who are 6 to 12 years old. Medication is often an important and difficult reality for parents of a child with ADHD. To find out which medications are safe and appropriate for your child, be sure to research and discuss any questions you have with your doctor.

Central Nervous System Stimulants

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are the most commonly prescribed class of ADHD drugs. The parents and their doctor should decide together on which medication is best for their child and whether the child needs medication during school hours only or on evenings and weekends as well.

Common CNS stimulants include:

  • amphetamine-based stimulants (Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat)
  • dextromethamphetamine (Desoxyn)
  • dextromethylphenidate (Focalin)
  • methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Ritalin)
  • nonstimulant medications

Nonstimulant medications are often considered when stimulants haven't worked or have caused intolerable side effects. Nonstimulant medications used to treat ADHD includeatomoxetine (Strattera) and antidepressants like nortriptyline HCI (Pamelor)

Therapeutic ADHD Treatments

There are several therapy options for children with ADHD. Talk to your child’s doctor about what option is best for their situation.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can be useful in getting a child to open up about their feelings of coping with ADHD. ADHD might cause problems with authority figures and peers. Psychotherapy can help children handle these relationships appropriately.

In psychotherapy, a child may also be able to explore their behavioral patterns and learn how to make the right choices moving forward. Family therapy can be a great venue for figuring out how best to work through disruptive behaviors.

Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy (BT) attempts to teach a child how to better monitor their behaviors and then modify those behaviors appropriately. The child and the child's parents or teacher will work together to develop strategies for dealing with certain situations and resulting behaviors. This frequently involves some sort of direct feedback so that the child learns suitable behaviors. For example, a token reward system could be devised to reinforce positive behaviors.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training can sometimes be useful if a child shows significant issues functioning in social environments. Like BT, social skills training attempts to teach new and more appropriate behaviors. This specifically helps a child with ADHD play and work better with others. A therapist may try to teach behaviors like:

  • waiting in turn
  • sharing toys
  • asking for help
  • dealing with teasing

Support Groups

Support groups are great for helping parents of children with ADHD to connect with others who may share similar experiences, concerns, and successes. Support groups typically meet regularly so relationships and support networks can be built. Knowing you're not alone in dealing with ADHD can be a huge relief. Support groups can also be a great resource for specialist recommendations and practical strategies, especially if you are a parent of a child newly diagnosed with ADHD.

Parenting Skills Training

This training gives parents tools and techniques for understanding and managing their child's behaviors. Some techniques may include the following:

  • A point system or other means of immediately rewarding good behavior or work.
  • How to utilize a timeout when the child becomes too unruly or out of control. For some children, being pulled out of a stressful or overstimulating situation can help them learn how to react appropriately the next time it comes up.
  • Finding time every week to share a pleasurable or relaxing activity. During this time together, a parent should look for opportunities to point out what the child does well and praise their strengths and abilities.
  • Structuring situations in a way that allows the child to find success. For example, allowing only one or two playmates at a time, so that the child doesn't get overstimulated.
  • Stress management methods such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and exercise.

Behavioral Interventions for Home and School

Organization

One of the biggest concerns for parents of children with ADHD is their child's success in school. A lot of the success hinges on organization. This is a skill that many children with ADHD struggle with. Simple interventions such as the ones listed below can be an immense help.

  • Schedule. Set the same routine every day. Try to make sure that waking up, bedtime, homework, and even playtime are done at consistent times. Post the schedule in a visible place. If a change must be made, make it as far in advance as possible.
  • Organize everyday items. Clothing, backpacks, school supplies, and play items should all have a designated, clearly marked space.
  • Use homework and notebook organizers. Stress the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home anything needed to complete homework.
  • Ask about using a computer in class. For some children with ADHD, handwriting is another stumbling block on the road to success. If necessary, see if their teacher will allow for computer use in the classroom.

Positive Reinforcement

Children with ADHD often receive, and then start to expect, criticism from authority figures. If they get only negative feedback without ever hearing positive things about themselves, they'll start to think of themselves as "bad." If rules are followed and behavior is good, give small rewards and praise to boost your child's self-esteem and reinforce appropriate behavior.

Extracurricular Activities

Children with ADHD often do very well with activities like: art class, music or dance lessons, or martial arts classes. These activities allow energy to be channeled creatively and productively. These activities can also be a source of positive reward and foster mental discipline. Find out what your child is interested in. Remember not to force them into anything.

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