Earlier ADHD Treatment Could Mean Better Grades

Children treated with medication sooner may do better academically.

In a study, students who were treated earlier with ADHD medications did better on test scores than those who were treated later. (Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images)

Jun 25, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may do better academically if they’re treated with medication earlier, a study finds.

The online study, released today in the journal Pediatrics, looked at test scores among 11,872 Icelandic children born between 1994 and 1996. The children also took standardized tests in the fourth and seven grades. About 1,000 of the students were being treated with ADHD drugs during the study.

Children who were on ADHD medications scored lower overall on the seventh-grade tests compared to those not on medication (those students performed at a steady level on the tests).

However, kids who were treated with drugs soon after their fourth-grade test had the smallest drop in scores.

Kids who started taking medication within a year of their fourth-grade tests had a 0.3 percentile point decline in math, compared to a 9.4 percentile point decline in kids who started on ADHD drugs 25 to 36 months after that test.

"Performance of kids with ADHD tends to decline over time, especially if medication is delayed," lead author Helga Zoega, told ABC News. "Starting medication earlier may halt this decline."

In the U.S., treating kids with ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin is highly controversial. Parents and heath experts are divided on when or if children should be treated, as well as how much and what type of treatment they may need.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in its 2011 clinical practice guidelines for ADHD that physicians should start evaluating children from ages four through 18 if the children have academic or behavioral problems and if they’re hyperactive, inattentive or impulsive.

How do you feel about the use of medications to treat children with ADHD? Let us know in the comments.

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