ADHD drugs may not help with children’s homework

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children can negatively impact their academic achievement and overall well-being.1
  • Guidelines suggest that medications can be effective for improving homework performance in children with ADHD.1
  • However, a new study showed that effects of medications were “limited and largely non-significant” for homework improvements.2

ADHD is the most common neuro-behavioural disorder in children. It’s been said that one of the most devastating aspects of ADHD for children is prolonged academic underachievement. This will no doubt hinder a child’s development, quite possibly throughout their lifetime.1,2

What do guidelines suggest then, in way of solutions? Behavioural therapy; followed by medication if it gets worse – preferably together with behaviour therapy. And on the topic of medication, the American Academy of Pediatrics have suggested that “medications can be effective in [helping children with their homework]”.1*

How effective are medications when it comes to homework improvements?

“Limited and largely non-significant”, according to Dr. Merrill and colleagues in a study published recently in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.2

This study recruited children and their families to receive behavioural therapy and/or medication.2

Overall, children receiving behavioural therapy with or without medication completed about 12% more math homework and over 10% more reading/language/arts homework vs. medication alone or no treatment at all.2

Behavioural therapy with or without medication also improved the accuracy of math and reading/language/arts homework by 6% vs. medication alone or no treatment at all.2

However, when Dr. Merrill and colleagues looked at the effect of medication on homework completion or accuracy, they found that medication did not contribute to either completion or accuracy of homework, with or without behavioural therapy.2

Bottom line

  • The best treatment for childhood ADHD may be behavioural therapy.
  • Medication is no substitute for proper behavioural therapy, which involves training for both the children and their parents.
  • For some, medication may be avoided to minimize the risk they pose to children, especially when no benefit is expected.

*Their exact word was “medication can be effective in facilitating schoolwork production” which basically means that medication can help kids finish more of their homework.

Source study: Merrill BM, et al. J Consult Clin Psychol. Published ahead of print: September 12, 2016. A paid subscription may be required.

References: 1. Subcommittee on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, et al. Pediatrics 2011;128(5):1007-22. 2. Merrill BM, et al. J Consult Clin Psychol. Published ahead of print: September 12, 2016.

Photo adapted from original by American Clinics, used under license.

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