Use of stimulant medication to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) symptoms remains controversial, with proponents arguing that medication makes ADHD manageable and opponents citing concerns about safety and efficacy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 6 with ADHD be treated with behavioral therapy alone. A national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that doctors may be ignoring these treatment recommendations, and that almost half of preschoolers with ADHD take stimulant medication.
ADHD Medication for Preschoolers
The study relied on data that parents provided to the 2009-2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. Almost half of preschool-aged children took medication for ADHD, while the other half received only behavioral therapy. One in four children was treated with medication alone.
Treatment of ADHD in Older Children
The study also looked at the use of therapy and medication in older children. Overall, 70% of children with ADHD took some type of ADHD medication, and 10% took supplements such as fish oil, often in addition to prescription drugs. Thirty percent of children received both therapy and medication, with 40% being treated with medication alone. Thirteen percent of children received neither medication nor therapy.
Location may also affect treatment. States with a low rate of medication use, such as Hawaii and California, had higher rates of therapy, and states with a high reliance on medication relied less on therapy. Michigan had the highest rate of medication use at 88%, and Tennessee reported the lowest rate of therapy, at just 33%.
Therapy can be highly effective at helping children and their parents manage the symptoms of ADHD, so many treatment guidelines argue in favor of both medication and therapy. The study’s authors believe that the convenience of medication, the expense of therapy, and difficulties finding a therapist may help explain why parents often choose only medication. If you need help finding a therapist who specializes in ADHD, GoodTherapy.org’s directory can help you find the right fit.
- ADHD: Clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. (2011). Pediatrics, 128(5), 1007-1022. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2654
- CDC publishes first national study on use of behavioral therapy, medication and dietary supplements for ADHD in children. (2015, April 1). Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cdc-publishes-first-national-study-on-use-of-behavioral-therapy-medication-and-dietary-supplements-for-adhd-in-children-300059587.html
- Frye, D. (n.d.). Trending: New nationwide study on ADHD treatment in children. Retrieved from http://www.additudemag.com/adhdblogs/19/11260.html
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