– Katherine, mother
Hundreds of thousands of kids have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and many are taking stimulant medicine to help them succeed in school. Will these kids have to take pills for the rest of their lives? New research says maybe not.
Nine-year-old Mitchell has ADHD.
“Kindergarten is when we started with the diagnosis. His kindergarten teacher noticed it, said he just couldn’t focus, couldn’t stay on task. So we took him to his pediatrician and he noticed it right in his office and said, ‘Let’s try to get him on some medicine,’” says Katherine, Mitchell’s mother.
Since then, Mitchell has been on a stimulant ADHD medicine. But will he need the medication forever? Not necessarily, according to new research. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health performed brain scans of more than 400 children. They found that children with ADHD had a three-year delay in development of the frontal lobe -- the area of the brain responsible for attention and planning.
“This study is important because now it links the behavioral disorder with a more medical or organic finding on brain development. I think it should also help parents to feel that it is a true disorder and is something that we’re trying to treat and to help the children get on task,” says Thomas Burns, Psy.D., Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
What’s more, says Burns, that three-year delay means some children with ADHD may outgrow their disorder.
“There’s a subset of kids that appear to catch up over time and for those children, it would fit with a small subset of the kids diagnosed with ADHD that appear to grow out of it in their teens,” says Burns.
Mitchell hopes he’s one of those kids.
“I think I might outgrow it,” says Mitchell.
”Yes, I’m thinking with our help we can overcome it and eventually get him off the medicine,” says Katherine.
Tips for Parents
Children with ADHD have impaired functioning in multiple settings, including home, school and relationships with peers. If untreated, the disorder can have long-term adverse effects into adolescence and adulthood. (National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH)
NIMH reports that symptoms of ADHD will appear over the course of many months, and include:
Impulsiveness: a child who acts quickly without thinking first.
Hyperactivity: a child who can't sit still; walks, runs or climbs around when others are seated; talks when others are talking.
Inattention: a child who daydreams or seems to be in another world, is sidetracked by what is going on around him or her.
If ADHD is suspected, the diagnosis should be made by a professional with training in ADHD. This includes child psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, behavioral neurologists, and clinical social workers. (NIMH)
For children with ADHD, no single treatment is the answer for every child. A child may sometimes have undesirable side effects to a medication that would make that particular treatment unacceptable. And if a child with ADHD also has anxiety or depression, a treatment combining medication and behavioral therapy might be best. Each child’s needs and personal history must be carefully considered. (NIMH)
Some people get better results from one medication, some from another. It is important to work with the prescribing physician to find the right medication and the right dosage for your child. For many people, the stimulants dramatically reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work and learn. The medications may also improve physical coordination, such as that needed in handwriting and in sports. (NIMH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta