ClassroomA long-term study suggests prescription stimulants for children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) is associated with improved long-term academic success.

The finding is the product of a prospective investigation that followed children from the time they were born for, on average, 18 years.

Of the more than 5,000 children evaluated, 370 (277 boys and 93 girls) were identified as having ADHD.

Researchers matched them by age and gender to 740 children who did not meet the research criteria for having ADHD.

In addition to medical stimulants such as methylphenidate, also called Ritalin, the study examined the effects on school outcomes of maternal age, socioeconomic background, and special education services the students received.

A related study revealed that compared to children without ADHD, children with ADHD are at risk for poor long-term school outcomes such as low achievement in reading, absenteeism, repeating a grade, and dropping out of school.

Nearly 2 million children, or approximately 3 percent to 5 percent of young children in the United States, have attention deficit disorder (ADHD). This disorder affects a child’s ability to focus, concentrate and control impulsive behavior.

The disorder is so common that most school classrooms have at least one child with clinically-diagnosed ADHD.

“In this study, treatment with stimulant medication during childhood was associated with more favorable long-term school outcomes,” explains William Barbaresi, M.D., Mayo Clinic pediatrician and lead author of the reports.

The children treated with stimulants typically began taking medication in elementary school and received it for nearly three years — on average, for 30.4 months.

Results indicate:

  • Gender: Girls and boys with untreated ADHD were equally vulnerable to poor school outcomes — and girls may be at risk for being under-identified as having ADHD, and therefore undertreated.
  • Reading: By age 13, on average, stimulant dose was modestly correlated with improved reading achievement scores.
  • Absenteeism: Both treatment with stimulants and longer duration of medication were associated with decreased absenteeism.
  • Grade Retention: Children with A/HD who were treated with stimulants were 1.8 times less likely to be retained a grade than children with ADHD who were not treated.

Dr. Barbaresi believes that both studies provide the first solid evidence of the long-term negative academic performance associated with untreated ADHD — as well as evidence for the best way to manage this problem.

“The finding that treatment with stimulant medications is associated with long-term improvement in school outcomes is significant.

“Previously, there was evidence that treatment with stimulant medications improved short-term academic performance, but there was no good evidence that long-term outcomes are better with stimulant treatment.

Our data can guide clinicians in their efforts to help children with ADHD succeed in school.”

Both studies appear in the current edition of the Journal of Development & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Source: Mayo Clinic