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ADHD medication can improve math and reading scores, study suggests

Saw this article from Berkeley and thought it might be of interest to those in the ADD/ADHD community. I actually worked at Professor Steven Hinshaw's ADHD camp one summer while I was at Berkeley and it was a great experience.

ADHD medication can improve math and reading scores, study suggests

By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | 27 April 2009

BERKELEY — Pediatricians and educators have long known that psycho-stimulant medications can help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) concentrate on learning for short periods of time. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, has found evidence that grade schoolers with ADHD who take medications can actually improve their long-term academic achievement, and make greater gains in standardized math and reading scores than students with ADHD who do not take medications.

"Our study found that the children with ADHD who used the medication were several months ahead of their non-medicated peers in reading and math, which is significant because early progress in school is critical to ongoing academic success," said Richard Scheffler, distinguished professor of health economics and public policy at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and director of the campus's Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare.

The study is published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

ADHD is characterized by poor concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and other symptoms that are age-inappropriate. If untreated, it can result in learning difficulties, volatile peer relationships and poor organizational skills. Through standardized math and reading achievement scores, the study tracked the academic gains of nearly 600 U.S. children from kindergarten through the 5th grade who were diagnosed with ADHD. It then compared the scores of the students who were on ADHD medications with their non-medicated peers.

Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Education Department's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that included the academic progress of U.S. elementary school students from 1998-99 as well as information on each child's family and medical background. With this data, researchers were able to track six years of academic progress in the children diagnosed with ADHD.

The study found that students with ADHD who were on medication made gains in math that equated to about one-fifth of a school year, as well as gains in reading that were equivalent to the progress typically made in one-third of a school year. Reading improvements were noted in students who had been medicated for at least two rounds of the survey.

Scheffler co-authored the study along with UC Berkeley psychologist and Psychology Department chair Stephen Hinshaw; Susan Stone, associate professor of social welfare at UC Berkeley; Dr. Peter Levine, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Walnut Creek; Timothy Brown, associate director of research at the Petris Center; and Brent Fulton, a health services researcher at the Petris Center. The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

"After many years of short-term research in lab settings, it was time to move into the
real world and study kids with ADHD on actual achievement tests," said Hinshaw, an expert on psychopathology in children and adolescents who runs summer research programs and long-term follow-up studies for girls and boys with ADHD.

Researchers note, however, that psycho-stimulant medications alone cannot close the learning gap between children with and without ADHD. "Medication may help the child to focus and prepare for learning. But there is no substitute for a sound curriculum and clear expectations for student achievement. Without these, medications alone cannot work, Hinshaw said.

More than 4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. Compared to their non-ADHD peers, children with ADHD suffer lower grades and achievement scores, and higher dropout rates, the study points out. To help with attention and focus, just over half of them use medications such as methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine, which go by such trade names as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall.

"As a clinician who sees many children with ADHD, I find it very encouraging to see these results," said Levine. "We know these medications help in school in the short term, and now we have evidence for long-term benefits, as measured by standardized math and reading scores."

While previous studies have shown that medication boosts the kind of attention and short-term memory needed for quizzes and other school exercises, very little is known about the effects of these drugs on long-term academic achievement. The current study repeatedly examined children throughout elementary school and used well-calibrated, standardized achievement tests.

These findings potentially could spur substantial gains in the academic achievement of children with ADHD, particularly among minority and low-income children, who tend to be medicated at rates below those of their white, middle-class peers.

"Access to ADHD medications is an important issue for low-income and minority children because they are more likely to be uninsured," said Scheffler. "In addition, a lack of knowledge about ADHD and treatment options, as well cultural differences, can serve as barriers for the families of these children."

The authors also point to the need for more research on how medication - in combination with treatments such as behavioral interventions and targeted school curriculums - can improve the academic achievement of children with ADHD.
7 Responses
303824 tn?1294875001
My stepson has been on Metadate 20mg for ADD, for close to a year and his math AND reading seem to have gone downhill since starting the medication. We had to put him in tutoring so he could pass his 3rd grade TAKS test for both subjects.

Maybe he's just the exception...at least I hope so for the future of all children out there suffering from ADD.
765070 tn?1384873394
No, sorry studies are not always something to rely on.  My son has been taking meds for 6 years now and now matter what drug they take it does not take care of all their problems.  The teachers still need to be willing to work with them and the child may still be lagging behind due to severe side effects.  The problem is that schools are just wanting the children on meds to help ease their pain and frustration.  When all they need is to just care and be willing to work with the child even if that means staying after school or enrolling them in a IEP (Individual education plan).   They seem to forget that ever child is different and all of us were created as individuals not as a group of children that need to be all the same in order to be successful.  The problem is that everything that is done in school is done as testing and performance based on state testing which is time consuming for a child with ADHD to focus on.  This is why so many children with ADHD do not show high testing in the state tests.  They have trouble focusing on anything for long periods of time and meds do not always help unless their ADHD is extremely mild.   Most cases the meds make them zombie like and emotionless.  
189897 tn?1441130118
The trouble is that your son went through first and second grade without meds and missed a lot of the foundation he needed.  Third grade math is much, much more difficult than second grade math.  You have definitely done the right thing by getting him tutoring - without it he probaby would have had a difficult time catching up.  Try to keep it going during the summer if you can.  It will pay off big in fourth grade.
189897 tn?1441130118
   A lot of truth in what you say, and also not so much truth, cuase you kinda generalized.  So much depends on the teacher and the school system.  In the good old days, the school just kicked the kid out and gave them no help whatsoever.  
  Agree completely with your statement of kids not being able to focus for long periods of time.  If you have ever tried to do homework with an ADHD child, you know how hard this is.
  Only thing I really disagree with is, "Most cases the meds make them zombie like and emotionless."  If this is happening, the medication dosage is incorrectly set.  Either your doctor is not on the ball, or the parents are not communicating with the doctor.   Wait, I guess I disagree with "in most cases".  It can do that.  It shouldn't be doing that.  And, most importantly, it can be fixed.
765070 tn?1384873394

I typed quickly and really did not look over what I said.  Sorry, for the generalization.  I meant to explain that it really does depend on the school and teacher.  I was reading what you said about iamanaddict's post, and respectfully do not agree that if he would of had the med in 1st and 2nd grade that he would have the foundation that he needed.  When I was in school, I did not use meds and the teachers were willing to do what they could to help and tutor wherever needed.  And, my school was not the only school that did this.  Now, of course, their are definitely exceptions to this statement.  

On the statement of "In the good old days, the school just kicked the kid out and gave them no help whatsoever."  This is not true in my case.  The teachers were willing, back then, to work more with students and the District did not get involved very much.  Now, the teachers have really no choice but to go with what the District expects and not their wishes and compassion that they really do have for the students.  This has actually gotten worse than gotten better.  When I first went on the meds, things were great.  But, after 2-3 years of taking the meds they just do not work as well since your body is used to them.  This is the case in any ADHD med whether switching to a new one after a while or not.  The same goes for my son's ADHD.  Many others on this forum have asked about this and commented on this as well.  This is what I meant by zombie like since this happens to many people with ADHD after a extended period of time.  This does not necessarily mean that the meds are too high a dose.

Yes, meds do work but they do not cure the disease and sometimes adds other problems that were not there before.   I really think that this disease is overdiagnosed and some teachers just use this as an excuse for their lack of effort.  

You know that I totally respect you and your views as a former teacher and Pricipal.  I do think that there is much more research to be done on this disease and really think that if parents take an active part in their children's life that many will not need the meds.  Now days, parents are so busy with work and their life that they only have a little time to spend with their children.  This was not the case when I was young and nowday society has definitely made it tough for parents to do this due to families needing more than one income in order to get by.  I really would like to see children get the help they need without the use of meds.  For now, meds are the best way to get some of the results that many are searching for.  
189897 tn?1441130118
   Hey Melissa,  I agree with like 90% or  95% or most of what you say.  Where we disagree, its more a matter semantics.
   For example, when I said "In the good old days", I was talking about the early 70's (and you weren't around then). In those days, no one had a clue what ADHD was.  If a child had a severe case (usually a boy with a high HD part).  They didn't mess around with compassion, they just booted him out.  
   I think what I was trying to say (in too short of a post) to imanadddict's post was that math is one of those (really few areas in school, and perhaps the only area)  where it is crucial to understand what happened the year before.  If you miss some of the foundation, its hell to build the rest of the building.  Frankly, its pretty easy for a ADHD child (not on medication) to miss some key facts.  These will then come back at them next year.  That is why I was so glad to see he got extra tutoring help.
   I agree with you completely that teachers are now forced to teach to the test.  In doing so, many of the really good parts of a child's education have gone bye-bye.  However, a teacher can still work with the ADHD kid while teaching to the test.  Just because they have to teach to a test, doesn't mean they get to ignore the needs of a child.  That is probably the one thing (or one of the things) that getting a kid into special education does.  It makes the teacher pay attention to them.  At least the teacher knows what their problem is.  How they deal with that is up to the individual teacher to some extent, but the IEP can really help for things like more time on tests, etc.
  Still having trouble with "zombie like".  I agree completely with "But, after 2-3 years of taking the meds they just do not work as well since your body is used to them".  Which is why it is super important for parents to keep in touch with their doctors and communicate what is going on.  It is definitely not  " take a pill and forget the kid".  But I thought  (and I really could be wrong here) that once your body became used to the drug, you tended to revert back to your old ADHD ways which is usually not "Zombie like".  Most posts I have seen have related zombie like to kids who were way overmedicated.  But here again, zombie like may have a different meaning to you then me.
  I totally agree with your last part that parents must take an active part in their children's life.  I would only add it should be an active "informed" part.  They have got to understand what is going on with their child!!!  That is why I am so glad that you are contributing to this forum.  Your experience is highly valuable.  Keep writing!!!!!  
Whatever - the main point is that the parents realllly, realllly need to take an active part in their kids life.
535822 tn?1443980380
Interesting reading guys good input for both sides of this, thank you .Helpful to parents making descisions .
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