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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Treatment Overview

How does behavioral treatment work for ADHD?

Some forms of behavior therapy have little effectiveness in treating ADHD patients. But one type of behavioral management therapy can be used with success. This approach to ADHD treatment can be used with or without medications.

With behavioral management therapy, a licensed mental-health professional -- psychologist, social worker, or family therapist -- will work with both you and your child's teacher to set up a program to improve behaviors. The therapist will train you in child behavior management.

You and the teacher will be taught to see the child's behavior as a function of ADHD -- rather than as negative behavior. The sessions are meant to teach you to focus on appropriate behavior. At the same time, you learn to ignore minor inappropriate behavior.

You will also learn to give clear and concise directions and to establish effective incentive programs to reward appropriate behavior and eliminate negative behaviors. The incentive programs may use rewards like tokens, tickets, or reward points. Then you and the teacher manage your child's behavior. You do that by applying immediate and consistent consequences in the form of rewards or taking privileges away.

The elements of behavioral management therapy include:

  • Goal-setting -- You and the teacher help your child learn to set and accomplish specific goals. Examples of goals include completing a chore, finishing a classroom assignment, playing amicably with a peer on the playground, sitting at his desk for an hour or more.
  • Rewards and consequences -- Your child receives his or her due -- rewards or consequences -- for his or her actions. For example, additional computer time can be given for good behavior or achieving established goals. Negative behavior can be met with time out or loss of privileges.
  • Consistent therapy for a long period of time -- It's important to use goal-setting, rewards, and consequences with your child until the child adopts these behavioral changes as his own.

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend medication, behavior therapy, or both to treat children with ADHD. One study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found, though, that individuals with ADHD who had behavioral treatment alone had fewer or less prominent ADHD symptoms.

As you seek safe and effective treatment for your child's ADHD, remember that treatment needs to be tailored to your child's specific needs. Always talk to your doctor about what's best for your child.

Can ADHD be treated with dietary changes or vitamins?

In the past, experts and parents of ADHD children hoped that dietary changes -- no food dye, no sugar, and no salicylates -- could cure ADHD. Some experts championed megadoses of vitamins and natural dietary supplements as a possible "cure" for ADHD. Some parents claimed that a gluten-free diet helped to cure ADHD or improve the symptoms.

There's no denying that a well-balanced diet is most important for optimal health. But scientific studies do not support the idea that dietary factors or a vitamin deficiency actually causes ADHD.

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