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ADHD Meds: Are They Effective? Should Children Take a Pill Break?

Consumer Reports – known more for its ratings of cars and appliances – recently surveyed almost 1,000 parents of children with ADHD and discovered that only 67 percent felt that ADHD medications had significantly helped their children.  “Only 52 percent of parents agreed strongly that if they had to do it all over again, they would have their kids take medication.  And 44 percent said they wished there was another way to help their child,” MSNBC reports.  Many parents felt the use of supplemental treatments such as “hiring tutors, switching schools, modifying diets, and changing the way they spoke to their children” were essential in mitigating ADHD symptoms.

Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist and medical adviser to the magazine, is encouraged by the news, noting that “kids improve the most when medication is coupled with complementary approaches, such as behavioral therapy and strategies to help with academics.”

Adding dietary supplements such as fish oil have also proven to help children with ADHD.  Conversely, consuming American fast-foods have an adverse affect.  A study published this month in the Journal of Attention Disorders “found that kids had more than twice the risk of developing ADHD if they ate a ‘Western diet’ that consisted of energy dense, heavily processed foods that were rich in saturated fat, salt and sugars and low in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and folate.”

Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, presumes that the low satisfaction rate with ADHD meds among parents may be because medications can be seen as a “band-aid or crutch.”  So it’s not surprising that many parents take the opportunity while their children are at summer camp to give them a medication vacation.  But WebMD reports that these “drug holidays” can be problematic for campers and counselors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “drug holidays should be avoided in campers who are taking psychiatric medications” long-term, and The American Camp Association agrees.  ACA board member Edward Walton, MD, says if parents are going to give their children a reprieve from medications over the summer, it’s essential they notify camp staff.

“There are possible benefits to taking medication holidays, but any break should be carefully planned and supervised,” says Lawrence W. Brown, MD, of The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.  “If a drug holiday is performed, it should definitely be planned and part of a team effort to determine the effects on target symptoms, just as it was done when medication was first started,” says Brown, who serves on the AAP’s subcommittee on ADHD.

While some parents feel that ADHD meds are a crutch, others feel that an ADHD diagnosis itself is “an easy way out, a way to get (kids) ‘extras’ — like more time on standardized achievement tests,” Lisa Belkin wrote on Motherlode this week, in reference to Judith Warner, author of We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.  Warner feels that ADHD “is simultaneously overdiagnosed and underdiagnosed,” the latter dynamic a result of parents who fear being judged as just the type of “opportunist” looking for academic advantages for their child.  Regardless, it’s clear that living with ADHD is no easy prospect, as the parents of children with the disorder are nearly twice as likely to divorce by the time the child is 8 years old than parents of children without ADHD.

Photo: hipsxxhearts via Flickr

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