Treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help relieve the symptoms and make the condition much less of a problem in day-to-day life.
ADHD can be treated using medicine or therapy, but a combination of both is often best.
Treatment is usually arranged by a specialist, such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist, although the condition may be monitored by a GP.
There are 5 types of medicine licensed for the treatment of ADHD:
These medicines are not a permanent cure for ADHD but may help someone with the condition concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer, and learn and practise new skills.
Some medicines need to be taken every day, but some can be taken just on school days. Treatment breaks are occasionally recommended to assess whether the medicine is still needed.
If you were not diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood, a GP and specialist can discuss which medicines and therapies are suitable for you.
If you or your child is prescribed one of these medicines, you’ll probably be given small doses at first, which may then be gradually increased. You or your child will need to see a GP for regular check-ups to ensure the treatment is working effectively and check for signs of any side effects or problems.
It’s important to let the GP know about any side effects and talk to them if you feel you need to stop or change treatment.
Your specialist will discuss how long you should take your treatment but, in many cases, treatment is continued for as long as it is helping.
As well as taking medicine, different therapies can be useful in treating ADHD in children, teenagers and adults. Therapy is also effective in treating additional problems, such as conduct or anxiety disorders, that may appear with ADHD.
Psychoeducation means you or your child will be encouraged to discuss ADHD and its effects. It can help children, teenagers and adults make sense of being diagnosed with ADHD, and can help you to cope and live with the condition.
Behaviour therapy provides support for carers of children with ADHD and may involve teachers as well as parents. Behaviour therapy usually involves behaviour management, which uses a system of rewards to encourage your child to try to control their ADHD.
If your child has ADHD, you can identify types of behaviour you want to encourage, such as sitting at the table to eat. Your child is then given some sort of small reward for good behaviour.
For teachers, behaviour management involves learning how to plan and structure activities, and to praise and encourage children for even very small amounts of progress.
Parent training and education programmes
If your child has ADHD, specially tailored parent training and education programmes can help you learn specific ways of talking to your child, and playing and working with them to improve their attention and behaviour.
You may also be offered parent training before your child is formally diagnosed with ADHD.
These programmes are usually arranged in groups of around 10 to 12 parents. A programme usually consists of 10 to 16 meetings, lasting up to 2 hours each.
Being offered a parent training and education programme does not mean you have been a bad parent – it aims to teach parents and carers about behaviour management, while increasing confidence in your ability to help your child and improve your relationship.
Social skills training
Social skills training involves your child taking part in role-play situations and aims to teach them how to behave in social situations by learning how their behaviour affects others.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. A therapist would try to change how you or your child feels about a situation, which would in turn potentially change their behaviour.
CBT can be carried out with a therapist individually or in a group.
Other possible treatments
There are other ways of treating ADHD that some people with the condition find helpful, such as cutting out certain foods and taking supplements. However, there’s no strong evidence these work, and they should not be attempted without medical advice.
People with ADHD should eat a healthy, balanced diet. Do not cut out foods before seeking medical advice.
Some people may notice a link between types of food and worsening ADHD symptoms. If this is the case, keep a diary of what you eat and drink, and what behaviour follows. Discuss this with a GP, who may refer you to a dietitian (a healthcare professional who specialises in nutrition).
Some studies have suggested that supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be beneficial for people with ADHD, although the evidence supporting this is very limited.
It’s advisable to talk to a GP before using any supplements, because some can react unpredictably with medicine or make it less effective.
You should also remember that some supplements should not be taken long term, as they can reach dangerous levels in your body.
Tips for parents
If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD:
- be sure your GP or specialist helps you understand the difference between ADHD and any other problems your child may have
- think about who else needs to know about your child’s ADHD, such as their school or nursery
- find out the side effects of any medicine your child takes and what you need to look out for
- getting to know people at local support groups can stop you feeling isolated and help you to cope
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