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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Do children with ADD need to be medicated?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Serving the interests of children and young people with childhood language and related disorders View Profile

    The choice to medicate your child is yours. Discussing your concerns and weighing up the risks and benefits with your paediatrician and professional support network (such as therapists) is vital so that you make an informed decision that you are comfortable with.

  • I am a dietitian/nutritionist with extensive research experience into diet/nutrition and children’s behaviour; Mediterranean-style whole food diet; and parental influences on young children’s diets. In … View Profile

    Before making this decision it is wise, as suggested by the previous response, to make an informed decision and weigh up the risks and benefits. It would be advisable to explore other avenues before making the decision to medicate as there are adverse side effects, both in the short term and long term - long term effects including increased risk of stunted growth. There is good evidence that fish oil can help some children with attention difficulties (taking 750mg-1g long chain omega-3s EPA + DHA per day). Note that it can take up to 8-12 weeks to see noticeable improvements if indeed this is of assistance with your child. Please feel free to contact me if you would like further details.

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    Dr Tim Edwards-Hart

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Dr Tim Edwards-Hart is a clinical psychologist working with adults, young adults and adolescents (age 15+). He has expertise assessing and managing ADHD, anxiety, and … View Profile

    There a number of factors to consider when making a decision about medication, in particular how old a child is, the extent that ADHD is affecting their life, and what has already been tried. In general the older a child is, and the more severe the symptoms, the more likely it is that medication will help. 

    For younger children, the first step is to work on behavioural strategies (such as reward charts and praise) to reinforce desirable behaviour along with strategies to improve parent-child relationships. The latter is not because of bad parenting, but because ADHD behaviours can be incredibly frustrating and strain even the most loving parent. These behavioural approaches are usually developed with the assistance of a specialist paediatrician or a psychologist, but someimtes a detailed history (which may take several hours) reveals that parents have already tried variations of what would be recommended. Medication is best considered if these initial approaches are insufficient on their own. 

    For older children and teens medication is more likely to be required. However, while medication is sometimes offered on it's own, this is not recommended as it doesn't change the underlying neurology. This means that, once medication is stopped, the original issues usually resurface. In contrast, when offered in combination with behavioural and self-regulation strategies, medication can help people with ADHD focus enough that other strategies will begin to be effective. There is evidence to suggest that many of the benefits from this combined approach can continue even when medication is no longer prescribed. 

    There is some evidence indicating that physical exercise, “brain training” and mindfulness will help, and there is also some reseach to suggest that diet may help. So far, however, nothing has proved to be as effective as the combination of medication and behavioural strategies.

    In summary, medication is not always needed and so it is certainly worth considering other approaches first. This is especially true for younger children or those with mild symptoms. As children get older, it becomes increasingly likely that medication along with other approaches will be most effective and this combination may even reduce the likelihood of requiring medication in the future.

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