Years ago, I began treating children with attention and behavioral problems with parent training. Yes, it was time consuming. Parents had to attend classes, track their child’s behavior and apply various parenting skills to the problems they saw. Then I would go in to the child’s classroom and train the teacher in the same methods so that we all were consistent and building skills in both the adults and children. Again, time consuming but seemed to have a good result.
Then medications for children became popular. Teachers were busy with classrooms too large, few helpers, too much paperwork and families who were not involved. Medicating children with ADHD seemed to help everyone immediately , but the question always was, was it good for the child and would the help last?
Families with an ADHD child often have concerns when a medication is recommended to treat symptoms. Parents typically do not want to medicate children unless they feel it is absolutely necessary and the benefits outweigh the costs. Since so many children are put on ADHD medications (2.7. million in the US according to the CDC; 2007) in order to help them in school, we have to question this practice given the recent findings. Perhaps parental reluctance to use medications on their young children now has more validity. This latest study may help parents decide what to do when it comes to medicating a child in order to improve school success.
Nearly 4000 students were followed in Quebec, Canada over an 11- year period. The result of this longitudinal study was that boys who took the ADHD drugs actually performed WORSE in school than those who did not drugs and yet had similar symptoms! In terms of the girls, the National Bureau of Economic Research, discovered that those taking ADHD drugs had more emotional problems. So for both genders in terms of long term school performance, not good results.
But the picture isn’t clear. It seems that ADHD drugs do help kids sit still, pay attention and complete more problems and tasks with accuracy. However, in the long run, the benefits of the medication do not seem to translate in the classroom, especially when we look at academic achievement measures. One thought is that maybe the improved concentration of the child isn’t directed at the academic tasks required for long term success. We just do’t know.
So what does all this mean?
It means that medication alone is not going to enhance academic performance in the long run. Maybe drugs help kids focus on the immediate, but drugs do not teach skills, organization and prioritizing needed for academic success.
And since the medications also seem to backfire when it comes to studying and improving concentration, parents need to wonder if using the medications is a good idea, especially if the goal of using the medications is to improve academic success.
This study certainly casts doubt on the effectiveness of stimulant medication for children and further highlights the safety issues involved.
Another option is to go back to those parent training classes and apply the cognitive and behavioral interventions that have no side effects. These interventions take longer and require more parental involvement, but it might be worth the investment in the long run. And remember parents, many, many creative types did not do well in school, but did well in life! Academic success isn’t always an indicator of life success.