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A joint approach to treat ADHD

Most people would point to Fred Grossman, Ph.D., as an authority on childhood behavior because of his 30 years as a school psychologist in Portland, Ore. But he draws some of his expertise from home. His daughter once displayed all the impulsive and inattentive conduct typical of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Today, she’s a respected chiropractor.

It’s clear that Dr. Grossman knows the recipe for success with ADHD. And he’ll be the first to say that drugs aren’t always the key ingredient. For him and a rising number of Americans, the formula for treating ADHD demands the involvement of parents and teachers.

No magic pill

“In this culture, people just want a quick-fix pill to cure it,” says Dr. Grossman, a spokesman for the American Psychological Association. “But there’s no magic cure.”

That’s not to say prescription medications don’t have a place in treating ADHD. In fact, a landmark study released in 1999 showed the benefit of drugs. Compared with behavioral therapies alone, medication alone or in combination with behavior-focused methods may work better at easing the condition’s telltale symptoms. Constant motion, talking, wiggling, squirming, and restlessness mark ADHD.

“The problem with medication is that it’s not monitored as it should be,” Dr. Grossman says. He agrees, though, that drugs help calm symptoms that hamper behavioral therapies. “It’s a balancing act to get the right dosage.”

How parents can help

The fact is that parents are a vital part of the solution to ADHD, he says. He has this advice if your child has the condition:

  • Ask your child’s doctor about training sessions that teach you how to encourage good behavior by praising it. You don’t want children to learn that bad behavior brings them attention.

  • Seek chances to praise your child for doing something good. Don’t seek chances to tell your child to stop misbehaving.

  • Work with your child’s teachers. Your child may focus better if he or she sits near the teacher. Shorter assignments may help, for instance.

  • Ask your child’s teachers and doctor whether the child should be evaluated for learning and language problems. Such problems often go hand in hand with ADHD. You may need to work with the school to draw up an individual education plan.

  • Get your child counseling. This can help keep children from taking advantage of the diagnosis and can make them accountable for their behavior.

The ADHD label can lessen kids’ self-esteem or make them see themselves as damaged in some way. Counseling helps convince children that “they’re better than they think,” Dr. Grossman says. This approach helped him to treat his daughter. 

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