In a recent survey of parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), a majority cited drug therapy as the most effective treatment, followed by nearly half who said transferring their child to a more ADHD-friendly school was a helpful intervention.
by Mary Kearl
Parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), take comfort: If you have turned to medication for treatment -- while longing for an alternative way to manage the condition -- and have found that not every school is equally up to the challenge of addressing your child's learning needs, you're not alone.
A recent Consumer Reports Health Survey of more than 900 parents of ADD/ADHD children, of whom 84 percent treated their child with medication at some point, attempts to give a snapshot of what life is like for you and your children, quantifying some of your daily challenges.
"We wanted to get a sense of what's happening in the real world," said Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and Consumer Reports survey research associate. Schwartz explained that two limitations of typical ADD/ADHD studies -- the fact that they take place in clinically-controlled environments and are often funded by pharmaceutical companies -- prevent them from being truly representative of daily life. (The Consumer Reports Health Survey was funded solely through Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.)
When asked to rate the most effective treatments for ADD/ADHD, 67 percent of families surveyed cited ADD/ADHD medication as the "most helpful." Forty-five percent reported that moving their children to a school better equipped to teach children with ADD/ADHD "helped a lot." If they had to do it over again, only 52 percent of parents strongly agreed that they would have their kids take medications and 44 percent said they would prefer to find another way to treat their child.
There are some bright findings regarding medication from the Consumer Reports Health Survey. Most children and teens (60 to 80 percent) who took ADD/ADHD medications usually became less hyperactive and impulsive and their behavior and focus improved. On the whole, medicated children had slightly better outcomes than those who weren't -- particularly with academic success and school behavior.
However, children who tried effective alternative treatments in addition to medication, "did a little bit better than children of parents who didn't find anything else helpful in addition to medication," noted Schwartz. Giving one instruction at a time, hiring a private tutor or learning specialist to work with the child, and providing structure by maintaining daily routines were other non-medical treatments reported as being helpful.
Parents of children on amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse) or methylphenidates (Concerta, Daytrana, Ritalin) noted positive changes within a few days of first starting the medication, whereas those on non-stimulant medications, like Strattera, reported experiencing improvements within a few weeks. There were no major differences to be found between amphetamines' effectiveness versus that of methylphenidates, but parents of children on the former were more likely to report "irritability and anger" and "high mood/energy." The survey did not have enough cases of children on non-stimulant medications, like Strattera, to report conclusive findings, but according to the analysis from Consumer Reports, the data indicate that these kinds of medications were less likely to be "very helpful" compared with stimulants.To learn more about the survey and its findings, visit ConsumerReportsHealth.org. Below, find some additional highlights.