Is Your Child’s ADHD Medicine Working?

It takes time to find the best treatment for your child’s ADHD. There are about a dozen drugs to choose from. Getting the right one at the right dose can be a long process of trial and error. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your child’s symptoms.

Before starting a new treatment, you and your child’s teacher can make a checklist of the symptoms and how strong they are. That will be your baseline.

After your child is on the medication for a while, you can each go through the list again. If a symptom isn’t as strong, the drug is probably helping with it.

Some things to check might include how often your child:

  • Misses details or makes careless mistakes
  • Gets off task
  • Seems not to listen when spoken to
  • Doesn’t follow directions or finish a task
  • Can’t get organized
  • Dislikes activities that take concentration
  • Loses things
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Forgets things
  • Fidgets and squirms
  • Doesn’t stay in their seat
  • Runs around when everyone else is seated
  • Can’t play quietly
  • Seems to be in constant motion
  • Talks too much
  • Blurts out answers
  • Won’t wait for their turn
  • Interrupts others

How Long Does It Take?

It depends on the medication your child takes, and if it’s extended release or short-term.

Most kids with ADHD get stimulant medication, which helps nerve cells in the brain communicate. These drugs work quickly. Behavior can change within an hour.

They also leave the system quickly. Some formulas wear off in just 3-4 hours. The longest-acting can last 12 hours. So before doing a symptom check, you should know when your child last took their medication to make sure it’s in their system.

Non-stimulant drugs act differently. They need time to build up in your child’s system but their effects last for 24 hours. You may not see a difference for weeks, and it may take several more to fine-tune the dose.

If you think your child’s personality has changed or they seem irritable all the time, their dose may be too high, even if their symptoms have gotten better. Talk to their doctor.


As Your Child Grows

Many parents find that after several years, the medicine that used to help their child no longer does the job. Older kids have more demands on their concentration, especially in high school. And they don't end with the school bell. Their day may include hours of homework, sports, or a job.

If their old behavior seems to be returning, tell their doctor. It may be time to increase the dose or try a different drug. They can also switch to a formula that lasts longer, or add another shorter-acting pill later in the day.

For some people, the symptoms of ADHD get better with age. At some point, your child may not need medication. Don’t try to check this by stopping the medication on your own, though. Talk to their doctor about taking a monitored break from the drug to see what happens.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 12, 2020



American Psychiatric Association: “Parent’s Medication Guide: ADHD.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: “Managing Medication.”

National Institute for Children’s Health Quality: “NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scales.”

American Psychiatric Association: “What Is ADHD?”

CDC: “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”

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