Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a common problem among children, and research suggests that it may be growing.
So how are these young patients and their families coping with the disorder? What are the different treatment options and how many patients utilize them?
Thanks to new research, a changing understanding of the prevalence of ADHD is being uncovered, along with a clearer picture on how families, patients and doctors are choosing to treat the disorder.
Rates on the Rise
ADHD is a disorder characterized in children by difficulties paying attention, problems in acting without considering the consequences and hyperactivity.
While found in both children and adults, the disorder expresses itself differently among the different age groups. Recent research seems to show that diagnoses of ADHD in children may be on the rise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis was found to be 7.8 percent in 2003, the numbers had increased to 9.5 percent by 2007. These numbers represent a 22 percent increase of the disorder.
The reasons behind these increases are yet to be determined. It is important to note that it could represent not only an increase in the incidence or number of completely new ADHD cases, but perhaps also that parents, educators and doctors are becoming better at identifying and diagnosing the disorder.
Regardless of increases, the 2007 CDC data shows approximately 5.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, and that these diagnoses are more common among boys than girls (13.2 percent of boys have been diagnosed, as compared to 5.6 percent of girls).
With 5.4 million children coping with an ADHD diagnosis, it is important for caregivers, doctors and the public to understand the options available for treating the disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Currently available treatments focus on reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning.”
The avenues through which these aims are tackled can include a variety of forms of psychotherapy, medications, trainings or education, and often a combination of several.
A variety of types of therapy may be used to treat ADHD, each with different goals and objectives.
The Mayo Clinic reports general psychotherapy, or “talk therapy” can help patients “talk about issues that bother them, explore negative behavioral patterns and learn ways to deal with their symptoms.”
In another common type, behavioral therapy, the focus is on helping the patient change their behavior. This could come in a variety of forms, including “practical assistance, such as help organizing tasks or completing schoolwork, or working through emotionally difficult events,” reports NIMH.
Parents and teachers are often involved in behavioral therapy. These authority figures may be taught strategies for helping change the behavior of the ADHD patients in difficult situations.
“The best results usually occur when a team approach is used, with teachers, parents and therapists or physicians working together,” reports the Mayo Clinic.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, NIMH reports the most common form of medication for children with ADHD are stimulants, which “actually [have] a calming effect on children with ADHD.”
Depending on each individual child, the right balance of medication type and dosage must be found. Side effects can vary from patient to patient, as can the amount of medication needed to see an effect.
No matter which specific prescription is utilized, the overall goal of reducing symptoms remains the same, and according to NIMH, “For many children, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work and learn.”
Age Group Differences
According to clinical practice guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the recommended first line of treatment varies amongst different age groups of children.
For example, the AAP recommends that for preschool-aged children (4 to 5 years old), behavior therapy administered by parents and/or teachers should be tried to treat ADHD first, followed by prescription medication if there is no improvement.
For elementary school-aged children (6 to 11 years old) the AAP suggests either prescriptions or behavior therapy. The combination of both of these options is particularly stressed for children in this age group, and seems to be seen by the AAP as the preferable treatment option.
For adolescents (12 to 18 years old), medications are recommended as the primary line of defense, along behavior therapy and/or a combination of both. (The potential benefits of combining both are also stressed for this age group.)
Based on the CDC’s research, it seems the most common treatment option currently employed is medication.
According to the organization, “As of 2007, parents of 2.7 million youth ages 4-17 years (66.3 percent of those with a current diagnosis) report that their child was receiving medication treatment for the disorder.”
These rates do vary depending on age group and gender of the children. For example, rates of medication use were higher among those aged 11 to 17 than those aged 4 to 10.
Furthermore, “Boys are 2.8 times more likely to take medication than girls,” reports the CDC.
As research continues, we will likely get a better understand the numbers of ADHD patients that are using these medications in combination with other treatment options.
We are also likely to better understand how these combinations can be optimized for individual patients as they work alongside parents, teachers and doctors to cope and grow with this common disorder.