Adjunctive Therapy for ADHD in Children

If your child has ADHD, she likely has many symptoms. Often, one type of treatment isn’t enough to help with all the behavior issues. She may need a combination of treatments. This is adjunctive therapy. You may also hear it called combination therapy or complimentary therapy.

It can work in different ways.

Behavioral Therapy and Medication

For some children with ADHD, the first treatment may be behavioral therapy, which gives the child, parents, and teachers training and tools to deal with symptoms. It rewards good behavior and gives consequences for poor ones.

Other kids may start out with a medication to help control symptoms. There are different types of drugs used for ADHD: stimulants, nonstimulants, and antidepressants.

Whether your child tries behavioral therapy or medication first, you may find it’s not enough on its own. Often, these two types of treatments are used together.

Research shows a combination of behavioral therapy and medications called stimulants works best to manage symptoms of ADHD. But that doesn’t mean it works for every kid.

Stimulants and Nonstimulants

It may sound strange to take these medications at the same time, but this form of adjunctive therapy has worked for many kids.

Despite the name, stimulants don’t make a child excitable. They help them focus their thoughts and ignore distractions. They boost and balance certain brain chemicals.

Nonstimulants can improve concentration and impulse control. They tend to have a longer-lasting, smoother effect than stimulants.

For some kids, taking these two different types of drugs together can best manage behavior problems.

Stimulants and Antidepressants

Even if your child doesn’t have a mood disorder like depression, your doctor may still suggest a combination of these two types of drugs to help with your child’s symptoms.

Antidepressants aren’t approved to treat ADHD, but doctors do use them for it, often in combination with stimulants. Antidepressants can help control hyperactivity and aggression.

Some kids with ADHD also have depression or other mood disorders, so the two drugs together may be the best treatment plan for them.

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Diet and Medical Food

Some kids with ADHD may benefit from changes in what they eat, such as going gluten-free or avoiding certain food dyes and additives, although research is limited on how well this works. Omega-3 supplements may also help some children, and one is available by prescription. Talk to your doctor to find out if a supplement, or a change in diet, may be a good option for your child. Both can be used along with other treatments, but only under the guidance of a doctor.

Timing Matters

You need to make sure she takes her meds exactly as the doctor prescribes. Your child won’t get the most benefit if you break from it.

Be aware of how long each medication should stay in her system. Some are short-acting, but some work for as long as 24 hours. Make note of any changes in behavior or symptoms. Let the doctor know if you see anything that concerns you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on 1/, 016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Mental Health: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)."

Medscape: "Combination Pharmacologic Treatment for ADHD: The Emerging Evidence Base." 

News release, ScienceDaily.

Ming, X. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, September 2011.

Antshel, K. BMC Medicine, 2011.

Sikirica, V. Pharmacoeconomics, August 2012.

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