Is ADHD medication safe for kids and is it really doing the job it is supposed to do? Not really! That is the startling conclusion of a study called the Preschoolers with ADHD Treatment Study (PATS) which was commissioned for the National Institute of Mental Health.
The kids in the study were those had been prescribed medication when they were between the ages of 3-5. They were then followed for a period of six years and evaluated afterwards. They were then compared to a similar group who had not been on medication at all.
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The difference at the end of six years was minimal in that 62% of the kids on medication, such as amphetamine stimulants like Ritalin, were still displaying the usual troublesome symptoms such as being hyperactive and impulsive. But 58% of the kids who were not on any medication were still plagued by the above symptoms. Many people will say that this is a clear demonstration that the ADHD medication is not really effective at all. In addition there are concerns about how safe the stimulant drugs are for young developing brains. In the UK, for example, Ritalin cannot be prescribed for toddlers under the age of six.
Are ADHD drugs safe? -a word of caution.
Before we jump to any conclusions about this very small study (which only involved less than 200 kids) we should remember the following facts:-
- the age of diagnosis was too early. Children should be at least six years of age to be on the safe side.
- amphetamines and similar medication should not be prescribed for children under six. This is the UK law.
- many children had to stop taking the meds because of side effects.
- lower doses seemed to be more effective
- many children display fewer symptoms in the first 3 years but this later tapers off
Experts all agree
There are loads of studies out there on the question, is ADHD medication safe for kids. We can play around with figures all we want. But now all the experts agree that medication can only be effective when other interventions are put in place. This means that parents have to help in a proactive way in ensuring that their kids have adequate life skills to help them come to grips with this difference. Notice I am not calling it a disorder. Why? Mainly because I think that this disorder has been hyped up to an astonishing degree. The problem exists. 11% of US school children have it. At high school level, it is calculated that one in five boys will have ADHD.
What can be done?
Parents, teachers and doctors have to realize that we are in for the long haul. The main emphasis must no longer be on whether or not the ADHD drugs are safe, although they can certainly help in reducing the severity of symptoms. There should also be much more attention given to a natural cure for ADHD.
Such a cure is entirely safe as there are no side effects
But longer term interventions and strategies need to be in place. These include:-
- routines and structures to help lessen distractability
- ADHD friendly home
- liaison with teachers so that the child gets full rights under IDEA and/or Section 504
- behavior and cognitive strategies are in place
- parents can get support to acquire basic parenting skills
Once these are in place, the chances of ADHD children acquiring the life skills needed to cope in every social, academic and later on in the work environment are much greater. Parents can be safe in the knowledge that they have done the best they possibly can.
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