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Stimulants Help Students With ADHD

Drug Treatment Improves Long-Term School Success, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 19, 2007 -- Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who take Ritalin or other prescription stimulants are more likely to achieve long-term academic success than children with ADHD who don’t take drugs.

That is the finding from the longest and most comprehensive follow-up study of school performance among children with ADHD ever conducted.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic had unprecedented access to the medical and school records of an entire population of children living in a school district in Rochester, Minn. As a result, they were able to follow the children’s progress from birth to age 18.

The results showed that compared with kids without ADHD, children with the disorder were at higher risk for poor long-term academic outcomes, including lower reading scores, more school absenteeism, and having to repeat a grade.

Among children with ADHD, treatment with prescription stimulants was found to significantly lower the risk of these outcomes.

(Have you seen an improvement in your child’s schoolwork now that he or she is taking medication? Share your thoughts with others on our ADD/ADHD: Children with ADD/ADHD message board.)

Stimulants and School Performance

Earlier studies have linked treatment with stimulants to short-term improvements in school performance. But the study is the first to show long-term benefits even after drug treatment has been stopped.

The children in the study who took Ritalin or other stimulants typically began treatment in elementary school, and they took the drugs for an average of 2.5 years. Many kids took the drugs for five years or more.

“Long-term school outcomes seem to be improved when children are treated with appropriate stimulant medication therapy for ADHD,” researcher William J. Barbaresi, MD, of the Mayo Clinc, tells WebMD.

“This finding should prompt us to make every effort to ensure that all children with ADHD are identified and have an opportunity to receive appropriate treatment.”

The Mayo researchers compared outcomes among 370 children in the population cohort diagnosed with ADHD between 1976 and 1982 and 740 children without ADHD living in the same Minnesota school district. The groups were matched for sex and age.

Among the major findings from the study:

  • Children with ADHD were 1.8 times less likely to be held back a grade if they were treated with stimulant medications.
  • Girls were as likely as boys to have worse school outcomes when their ADHD was not treated with drugs.
  • Children with ADHD who also had other psychiatric or learning disorders were at greater risk for poor academic performance than other children with ADHD.

Not Just Controlling Behavior

Nearly 2 million children in the United States have ADHD, but many children with the disorder remain undiagnosed and many more do not get treatment.

Barbaresi says the Mayo research offers some of the first evidence that treatment with stimulant medications can have a lasting impact on quality of life into adulthood.

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