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What's the Right ADHD Medication for Your Child?

ADHD Drug Options continued...

If your child doesn't react well to stimulants, the FDA has approved different kinds of drugs, too. Atomoxetine (Strattera) as well as clonidine (Kapvay) and guanfacine (Intuniv) help make connections in the brain. They may ease restless, impulsive tendencies and help kids pay attention, make decisions, and remember things.

And though they're not specifically approved for it, some antidepressants can take the edge off some symptoms of ADHD. For children who have another disorder, such as anxiety or insomnia, along with ADHD, an antidepressant may help with both conditions.

One major decision is whether to use a short- or long-lasting pill. Depending on the prescription, the effects of a medication can last from as little as 4 hours to as long as 12. Your doctor will base the dose on your child's age, the severity of symptoms, and their specific areas of trouble.

"For an adolescent who has a lot of homework and may be driving, you would give a long-lasting dose," Stein says. "But for a younger child who just needs to focus during the school day but then needs to wind down and go to sleep early, you may give one that lasts only a few hours."

Watch for Side Effects

During the trial period, you and your doctor should keep an eye on your child to see if his symptoms improve and, just as importantly, if he has any trouble. As Wendy found out, it can take patience to get the prescription just right.

"The first medication he tried was a disaster," she explains. "It made him crash at night, and he would say he felt worthless." After a week, his doctor switched him to a new drug, and the difference was like night and day, Wendy says. "Within a day or two, he felt so much better, and he was able to follow directions and focus."

It's not surprising that Wendy's son had sleep issues with his first prescription. Problems such as the inability to conk out at night or feeling totally wiped out are some of the most common side effects from ADHD drugs, Stein says. He points out that these problems usually work themselves out over time. "But if it doesn't get better in a week and it's taking your child more than an hour to fall asleep at night, talk to your doctor about changing the prescription," he says.

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