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Adderall and Kids: What's the Right Approach?

Your kid is hyperactive. He runs around at school. Yells at his siblings. Throws fits in the grocery store. Can never sit still.

Is he just an active child, or is this ADHD? It can be hard to tell the difference early on, but new diagnostic criteria suggest evaluating kids as young as 4 for ADHD. While early intervention can help kids with ADHD thrive in school and at home, parents are justifiably worried that expanding the diagnostic criteria will lead to medicating normal childhood exuberance.

The frontline medication of choice for ADHD these days is Adderall or Ritalin. Both are central nervous system stimulants that help ADD kids calm down and focus. They have few side effects, but they are controlled substances that can be addictive and are widely used recreationally. 

No one is suggesting the first approach to ADHD in four-year-olds be a round of medication. There are behavioral approaches for parents and kids that can help to mitigate the effects of ADD, and those are a great place to start.

When medication does come into play, though, how can you evaluate what’s best for your kid? The National Institute of Mental Health says it’s important to communicate with your child’s doctor:

However, a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply for all children with ADHD. What works for one child might not work for another. One child might have side effects with a certain medication, while another child may not. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding one that works for a particular child. Any child taking medications must be monitored closely and carefully by caregivers and doctors.

While Adderall and other medications have few side effects, some experts still believe they should be given to children at the lowest possible dose, and for the shortest time necessary. Others are comfortable recommending them as long-term maintenance medications.

If you do decide to try Adderall with your ADHD kid, be warned that you may have trouble getting it. New FDA regulations have limited the amount of Adderall that can be produced. The resulting shortage has caused a price increase, and means that often pharmacies can’t keep enough of the drug in stock.

Photo: Arenamontanus

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