A PARENT’S GUIDE TO
GET THE RIGHT
FOR YOUR CHILD
THE NUMBERS TELL THE STORY: ACCORDING TO THE Centers for Disease Control, 6. 4 million children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. The good news
is that there are safe, effective treatments for the disorder.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most
effective treatments for ADHD are parental behavior therapy and/or ADHD stimulants for children over age six. Experts know, from years of research and many studies, that
ADHD stimulants work. They improve the core symptoms
of ADHD—impulsivity, hyperarousal, and distractibility—
in some 70-80 percent of the people who take them.
Nail Down the Diagnosis
Getting the correct diagnosis is the foundation of successful treatment. A faulty diagnosis leads to treatments that
don’t improve symptoms or, in some cases, make them
worse. Doctors frequently mistake ADHD for other disorders—generalized anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar
disorder, and even OCD—so it is important that your doctor use all the tools available to assess your child.
Diagnosis should include the following steps: taking a
medical history to rule out physical causes of the symptoms; meeting the symptom guidelines of ADHD in the
DSM- 5; interviewing parents, teachers, and guardians
about a child’s behaviors; filling out rating scales to compare your child’s behaviors with the normative average;
and assessing for co-occurring conditions, such as depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and others. Studies
suggest that 70 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD
have one or more co-occurring conditions.
Medication and Dose
When you and your child’s doctor are confident of the
diagnosis, and you decide to start your child on medication, understand that you must work closely with your
doctor to find the optimal medication and dose. There are
two classes of stimulants—methylphenidate and amphetamine. Every child has a biological preference for one or
the other classes, but it is only through trial and error—
taking methylphenidate and then, in separate trial, taking
amphetamine—that a doctor can determine which one
will work best for your child. Stimulants do not work for
20-30 percent of people diagnosed with ADHD. When they
don’t, a doctor will consider using a nonstimulant medication to improve symptoms.
The optimal dose of ADHD stimulant is not determined
by age, weight, gender, or severity of symptoms. It is determined by three factors that are unique to each individual: how efficiently the medication is absorbed in the
GI tract, how efficiently the medication is metabolized,
and how efficiently the medication passes across the
Experts agree that the right dose of stimulant will
change as your child grows. The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends adjusting a child’s dose once a year
to achieve symptom management. After age 16, a person
usually settles into an optimal dose, which, in most cases,
does not change for the rest of a person’s life.
When thinking about starting a child on ADHD medication, it is key that a parent know what to expect from various medication choices and what to do when the medication doesn’t produce positive results. (“Understanding
ADHD Medications,” on pages 50 and 51, will give you an
easy-to-understand overview of the process of using
HOW TO MONITOR
AF TER YOUR CHILD HAS STARTED TAKING ADHD MED- ication, you want to make sure that symptoms are improving without side effects—mood changes,
headaches, nausea, poor appetite, and so on. Monitoring
your child’s behavior and physical symptoms is key to
knowing when a medication is working and when it isn’t.
(The best tools for monitoring medication are the “Parent
Home Medication Log” and the “Teacher Observation Log.”
You will find both in our free downloadable guide at
additu.de/med-guide.) You are your child’s best advocate
in the process, especially for younger kids who can’t articulate what they are feeling.
Remember that the optimal dose for your child at age
six or seven will probably need to be adjusted as he or she
makes his or her way from elementary to middle school
to high school. Hormonal changes, as a child approaches
puberty, alter the effectiveness of ADHD medication.
Below are the most common signs that a medication is
doing what it should. You may notice other signs unique
to your child’s specific challenges. If you’re not sure which
improvements to look for in your child, stick to these
guidelines. If you see them (even if some side effects
remain), you are on the way to optimizing the medication’s
> Sustained focus.; If the medication is starting to work,