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ADHD in Children Health Center

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ADHD Medications Help Kids in School

Long-Term Academic Improvement Seen in Study
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 27, 2009 -- Kids with ADHD usually struggle in the classroom, but new research offers support that medication can help them achieve in school.

In the study, grade school-aged children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who took medication performed better on standardized math and reading tests than children with ADHD who did not take medication.

More than 4 million children in the United States have a diagnosis of ADHD, and it is believed that about 60% take prescription medications, mostly stimulant drugs like Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, for the disorder.

“Our study shows that there is a true, long-term learning effect that can be measured objectively,” lead researcher Richard Scheffler, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, tells WebMD.

ADHD Treatment and Learning

The study included nearly 600 children with ADHD from across the U.S. followed from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Researchers were able to track the children’s academic progress by examining standardized math and reading scores. They also had information about each child’s family and medical background.

Medicated children were about one-fifth of a school year ahead of their non-medicated peers in math and about one-third of a school year ahead in reading, but both groups still lagged behind their classmates who did not have ADHD.

Although earlier studies have shown that medication helps with short-term memory in the classroom, the study is one of the first to show that treatment is associated with long-term improvements in academic performance, Scheffler says.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, appears in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“We are not saying that all children with ADHD need to be on medication,” Scheffler says. “Drugs are not the answer by themselves. But it is clear that many minority and low-income children have less access to drug treatments.”

Improving this access, Scheffler says, could lead to better academic performance for the most vulnerable children with ADHD.

Many Kids With ADHD Have Other Issues

As the mother of two children with ADHD, Trish White has seen firsthand the difference medication can make in the classroom.

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