First, it's important to know a few things about ADHD treatment in general. In the largest study ever of ADHD treatments, researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found in 1999 that the most effective treatment was a combination of behavioral therapy and ADHD medications. In March 2005, researchers from the University at Buffalo SUNY found that behavioral modification therapy allowed doctors to significantly lower the doses of ADHD medications that children need to take.
So, while ADHD medications can clearly help many children manage symptoms, the drugs may be most effective -- with the fewest side effects -- when used in combination with behavioral therapy.
How do you know which ADHD medication is right for your child? Most experts advise parents to work closely with their child's doctor, and understand that finding the best dose and ADHD medication may be a gradual process.
"Treating ADHD is more an art than a science," says Richard Sogn, MD, a clinical specialist in ADD/ADHD and a discussion board leader at WebMD. After all, every child is unique, and every child's ADHD symptoms are slightly different. Finding the medication that works best -- or the combination of drugs -- is a process.
With all ADHD medications, the goal is to make your child's day go more smoothly, more productively. Until recent years, this was done by giving a child two or three doses of the stimulant Ritalin, which is considered a short-acting medication -- it wears off after three or four hours. Many newer medications are longer-lasting -- meaning they slowly release for up to six, eight, 10, or 12 hours. Yet the short-acting drugs still have their place in managing symptoms.
"While stimulants are still the mainstay of ADHD treatment, in recent years, doctors have found success in trying other drugs as well. In recent years the FDA has approved Strattera, a nonstimulant ADHD medication. In September 2005 the FDA issued a public health advisory about rare reports of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents taking Strattera. The agency asked Strattera's maker - Eli Lilly and Co. - to include a warning on the product's label."