Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

Why ADHD Medications Don’t Make Kids Smarter or Improve Academic Outcomes

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The ADHD news has been afire lately with a growing body of research showing that ADHD medications do not improve academic outcomes.

It’s no longer shocking to hear of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—and others simply facing a big test—taking ADHD medicine to boost their performance in school. But new studies point to a problem: There’s little evidence that the drugs actually improve academic outcomes. (Wall Street Journal)

You know, I’m not surprised by the research, and frankly anyone who reads into the results shouldn’t be too surprised either.

ADHD medications are not a take 2 and call me in the morning type of treatment, and clearly not a cure for ADHD by any means.

One of the reasons I wrote 7 Crucial Tips for Parents and Teachers of Children with ADHD is because medication alone isn’t a complete solution and the research is showing how true this really is.

ADHD medications in my opinion are an important, and for some, an integral, necessary part, but not the complete and total, it’s done, cured, kind of treatment.

Giving a child ADHD medication (I am talking about the perfect scenario where medication works and is the perfect dose and calms the child down), doesn’t mean the child is suddenly going to have better academic results.

And why should it? Because the child can focus better?

He or she may be more manageable in the classroom and less likely to act out, but the medication does not pick what the student will focus on.

This is so important:

Medication does not pick what the student will focus on or what the student is interested in at any given moment.

The child still picks.

Despite what some might hope, kids on ADHD medication do not become robots when told to go study alone in their room and then should return for dinner when completed.

The kid might well go to his or her room, but get focused instead on making his or her bed and cleaning the room, because the medication never chooses for the child to open books and study.

Does it?

And that’s the core issue. ADHD medication alone is not the answer.

If you’ve read my memoir One Boy’s Struggle you know that I was a quiet child, because as an inattentive type I did not burst out in classrooms or fidget a lot and that’s one of the reasons why I was not diagnosed.

My teachers were not as concerned with my academic results as much as they were with me being such a good, quiet boy.

ADHD medication may make a child more obedient and seemingly disciplined, but it doesn’t have a magic switch in the brain that makes a child focus on what a parent or teacher wants the child to focus on.

Children still need help to learn what the right choices are and how to make them.

I know, it seems like a no brainer, but you have to ask yourself how many kids are given ADHD medication and are not given the support on how to manage their ADHD symptoms?

ADHD medications are like tools, but even tools must be used in the manner that best suits each one, and if they are not then they are just a bunch of great tools with no specific purpose and will be used on anything, and not even effectively at that.

What’s to stop an ADHD child using medication from focusing on a butterfly instead of studying for their next exam?

The medication doesn’t make the choice for the child, but a parent or teacher sitting down with the child and assisting him or her can help direct the child’s focus. ADHD medications can help, but are not going to replace the personal nurturing a child with ADHD needs.

If ADHD medication continues to be used without the proper support and teaching skills to back it up, then the research showing ADHD medications do not improve academic outcomes will likely continue.

Let’s not blame medication for lack of better outcomes.

Now, here’s another thing and it’s important even if it starts a debate.

Why have so many successful people with ADHD chosen not to take medication?

Believe me, if I could take a magic pill to get rid of my ADD, I wouldn’t do it.”

~David Neeleman – Founder, JetBlue Airways

What has been different for them?

Of course, this is not part of any study and everything I write is opinion, but if we really take the time to examine successful people with ADHD, even someone like Michael Phelps who stopped taking medication as a child, we begin to discover the answer and that answer is:

SUPPORT from other human beings, parents, teachers, coaches and mentors.

Medication will never, never replace human connections, nurturing and support.

But I do believe medication along with the support a child needs can be a winning combination and human connection and support without medication is a realistic alternative, but takes a lot of time, care, and work.

But, hey, didn’t we know that already?

As I shared in One Boy’s Struggle, my life dramatically started to improve when I found a mentor. And I still do not (and cannot) take medication to treat my ADHD.

If you’d like some ideas on how to best support a child, 7 Crucial Tips for Parents and Teachers of Children with ADHD is filled with tips on what I believe would have helped me as a child and judging from the reviews it is helping a lot of parents and teachers, and even adults with ADHD, too.

And…

If you’d like to meet other parents dealing with these issues concerning kids with ADHD, check out my friend Rory Stern’s Facebook page Helping Your Child With ADHD - there are over 11,000 parents and teachers sharing a vast amount of knowledge and first hand experiences there.

What do you think of the human connection part of ADHD treatment? Is it being lost? Share in the comments.

~Bryan

My latest post on Positive Writer: How Frustration Can Lead to Breakthrough and Picking Yourself

Terry Matlen, ACSW July 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Bryan,
This is an excellent post- you hit the nail on the head. It’s like a favorite saying we in the field use over and over again: “pills don’t teach skills.”
You’re right- kids with ADHD still need help in the classroom. Meds are an exceptionally helpful tool for most with ADHD, but even so, kids still need help *even if* their attention span increases, because yes…they could focus for hours on something else of interest.

Kids/adults with ADHD cannot tolerate boredom. And though meds can help with focus, it doesn’t always mean it helps us to focus on the appropriate things. And what many do not know is that meds, especially if the dosage is too high, can cause over-focus.

How many have kids who cannot fall asleep if they are taking stimulants too late in the day or in the early evening? We find them in their rooms playing with incredible focus, rather than working on homework.

Yes, they still need support and mentors. Great job, Bryan!
PS Note that I am absolutely pro-medication as part of an appropriate treatment plan for ADHD. But I agree that this study can be terribly misinterpreted.

Terry Matlen, ACSW
Author, “Survival Tips for Women with ADHD”

Tracie July 25, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I think what many people forget is that ADD/ADHD is not a new/modern condition – it has been with us forever – but, in the ‘good old days’ before it’s ‘discovery’, families were closer…mums didn’t go out to work and their main focus was being there for their kids with support from aunties and grandparents. Schools had tougher discipline (rightly or wrongly) and, for the most part, children with ADD/ADHD were ‘managed’.

Times changed – the biggest change being TIME! These days it seems many parents no longer have the time (or, in some cases, the inclination) to put the effort into supporting kids with these, now recognised, addressed and labelled conditions. So the men in white coats came up with something to make life a little easier for the non-ADD/ADHD peeps to try and keep everything as ‘normal’ as possible in their world. (Meds are often more for the rest of society than they are for those taking them!)

Despite all the information freely available these days, there are still so many children being medicated only. I would point out that am NOT against medication. Since being diagnosed ADD (as an adult), medication has helped me tremendously, allowing me to focus better and achieve better results at work. But behavioural therapy has also afforded me incredible benefits, particularly when it comes to socialising – something I previously had great difficulty with because I was totally unaware of the effect my behaviour had on others – so much so that I hope to be able to get off the meds as soon as I retire.

We are now beginning to see the detrimental effect broken/dysfunctional families are having on individuals. Strong, supportive, nurturing families spanning all generations are a fundamental necessity for humanity. Our priorities are often completely upside down – it’s time to MAKE TIME for the most important things in our lives, of which children should be top of the list!

PS…I would also like to mention that, since getting the dosage of my medication right, my creative side has been set free! As a child (of the 60′s/70′s) I was very creative (artistic, wild imagination etc.) but the inability to organise and control my impulses meant few creative endeavours reached completion and, quite often, got me into trouble – the bad memories of which led me to bury/ignore my creatvity as I grew older. Now, when the ritalin is in effect, my mind is calmer (but not dulled in any way!) and I can stick with a project through to completion – which brings a whole new set of rewards in the form of accomplishment and success…a really positive boost to my self esteem!

Would I like to be cured of my ADD – absolutely NO WAY! ADD gives my life something I feel many people around me are missing out on…a bright, colourful vibrance where nothing is impossible along with a wonderful sense of mental freedom where thoughts can create images no-one could ever describe (even if they COULD talk at over 1000 words per second!) along with an ability to see and explore beyond the limits and restrictions society tends to create. I realise there are few people I can share these things with but I reckon life would be pretty mundane outside my party-packed head! :)

Johny Ive July 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Loved what you said Tracie.You are so damn right.I totally agree with you that even I won’t swap my ADHD brain for a ‘normal’ brain.For Adders like us the world is so exciting,different & vibrant everyday whereas for typical people it’s the same mundane life day after day.Undiagnosed ADHD can be a disaster but a managed one with medication and behavioral modification can be the killer weapon that you need in your arsenal to succeed in life.

Sabrina A in VA August 2, 2013 at 12:06 am

Well said – I agree, both in regards to children (my son is ADD) & adults (adult-diagnosed in 2011 @ age 37).

Finding the right pill simply helped my son be able to focus on the information he already wanted to learn – he’s had no problem (luckily) with appetite or insomnia. He is still just as creative – but at least now we have a chance of understanding what he’s saying, writing or drawing since he can focus his thoughts & recall his teaching.

For me, I have found that a hectic day is a medication day. Otherwise, the oh-new-shiny syndrome prevents me from getting stuff done as I should. I have noticed that completing more projects/tasks at work helps my self-esteem, as I now feel I’ve truly earned my paycheck & supported my team.

Fuzzy July 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Amen!

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