In children, ADD/ADHD is now considered the most common neuro-behavioral disorder, and while the enormous number of treatments available today can be confusing, the positive flip-side is that this is a very treatable disorder.
Once mainly identified as hyperactivity or behavioral problems – this is a disorder related to three main difficulties: inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. These aspects can show themselves in pervasive behaviors such as difficulty following instructions, keeping on task, listening or focusing concentration for very long, impulsivity and constant physical movement.
In this article, we’ll talk about a number of important points to consider when deciding on the right ADHD treatment.
The First Step to Good Treatment is a Good Diagnosis
It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of an accurate and thorough diagnosis.
Reports of over-diagnosis are starting to become a legitimate concern for parents – and it is imperative to make sure your child receives the proper diagnosis. Whether you seek a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, a neuropsychiatrist, or a psychologist – make sure that your diagnostician is spending time gathering your child’s full history, as well as giving proper consideration to possible emotional or environmental stressors that could explain the symptoms.
A common mistake is the ‘try medication and see if it works’ kind of approach. For instance, if the medication does not work, this doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t have ADD/ADHD as at least 30% don’t respond to stimulant medication. Furthermore, even if the medication works, this may be because it is successfully suppressing symptoms of other conditions.
Once you are sure of the diagnosis and clear on how it manifests in your child’s daily behavior, then you are ready to consider the possible options for ADHD treatment. Medication and Behavior Modification Therapy are the two most widely-used treatments; however it is growing clearer that while both have their place and can be helpful, there is much more that can be done to help these children fully realize their unique potential.
Medical Treatment for ADHD
Medication can be very helpful for immediate and short-term improvement, particularly important for children whose hyperactivity or impulsiveness is putting them, or those around them, in danger or even just in impossible situations.
These benefits are widely acknowledged, however it is important to keep in mind current debates about the degree of danger these drugs may have for children. Currently being debated is whether more extreme cases of heart attack, sudden death or stroke are related to these drugs, or to pre-existing conditions. Putting these aside, even the milder side effects of lack of appetite, depression, tics and sleep troubles are often hard enough on growing children to make parents consider additional therapies.
As with any form of ADHD treatment, medication should neither be accepted on blind faith, nor rejected entirely out-of-hand, but rather considered as a potential tool in a long-term treatment plan.
Behavior Modification for ADHD
Behavior modification is actually the most veteran of ADHD treatments.
While medication works to increase particular neurochemicals directly, behavior modification is a set of tools and strategies to shape the child’s behavior. Using very consistent and clear consequences for good and for bad behavior, the child learns how to gain awareness and greater self-management abilities. This approach can help children learn to gradually adapt and control their own behavior – though it does require a great deal of work over time.
In our next article, we’ll consider a third ADHD treatment that is gaining considerable clinical support and scientific evidence: Alternative to Medication: Cognitive ADHD Treatment