Treatment for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Education & ADHD

The first step in the treatment of ADHD is education, which includes providing clear information about what the disorder is, its possible causes, and how a combination of medication and behavioral therapy can help. If you or your child has been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, it is important to work with your health care team to develop an effective treatment plan for ADHD. The following points are important to remember:

  • Fifty percent of children with ADHD show improvement with psychostimulant medication and behavioral therapy.
  • There are a number of national resources available to provide support and information.
  • Treatment with herbs alone or by removing sugar from the diet is inadequate.

Behavioral Therapy & ADHD

The goal of behavioral therapy in children with ADHD is to reduce symptoms and improve function. Chances of conquering ADHD are better when parents participate in the treatment of their child. Parental involvement includes the following:

  • Giving effective praise for efforts
  • Ignoring outbursts that seem to beg for unnecessary attention
  • Listening and responding to the child's needs
  • Rewarding positive behavior
  • Using appropriate discipline for inappropriate behavior

Social skills training defines appropriate interactions with a child's teachers, parents, and classmates. Appropriate behavior is practiced in a group setting, where children can learn from each other.

Behavioral therapy for adolescents requires more input from the child. Definitions of appropriate behaviors are modified to reflect and support a young person's important developing sense of independence and self-sufficiency.

Many school systems use daily report cards or progress reports to keep parents posted on their child's behavior. Children with ADHD often benefit from special educational services, such as tutoring, careful classroom seating assignments, predictable routine and structured activities, and an individualized educational plan (IEP).

Psychotherapy & ADHD

Psychotherapy can help an adult identify how ADHD has influenced his or her personal relationships, work life, and educational performance.

Adults with ADHD can learn to structure environment to improve their time management skills. Consistent use of strategies such as the following can be helpful:

  • Daily list of tasks
  • Schedules and appointments posted throughout the home and/or office
  • Projects scheduled with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Important dates recorded in a planner, computer, or on a tape recorder
  • Self-reward program

Medication & ADHD

Parent involvement in medication treatment is extremely important to ensure the child takes the required doses on time, to monitor for side effects (e.g., cardiovascular and psychiatric adverse effects) and effectiveness of the drug, and to enlist the school's help when medication needs to be taken during school hours. Medication for ADHD may include the following types of drugs:

  • Stimulants (including amphetamines)
  • Non-stimulants
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihypertensives
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Neuroleptic drugs

An important note: at various times (especially since 2011), certain ADHD medications have been affected by a drug shortage. If you're having difficulty filling your prescription(s), contact your health care provider before you run out of medication if possible.

Unproven ADHD Therapies

These alternative therapies are not supported consistently by evidence, though some may be helpful in certain cases:

  • Biofeedback
  • Herbs, fatty acids, amino acids
  • Homeopathy
  • Megavitamins
  • Relaxation training
  • Stimulation of the auditory nerve associated with equilibrium
  • Sugar- and gluten-free diet

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015