The cause of ADHD is unknown and there is no cure. Drug options include three well-known medications, Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall, all of which have good safety records but do not work for everyone. A combination of treatments is often recommended. Behavior modification, counseling and educational support all help the child manage a short attention span or high energy level.
"These children need structure, clear expectations and immediate feedback for their behavior, both positive and negative," says Richard Smith, MD, outpatient clinical director for child and family psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital. "Their conduct also tends to be very inconsistent. People often make the mistake of believing the child is 'not trying.' One psychiatrist put it this way: 'A child with ADHD has a good day and we hold it against him for the rest of his life.' "
Judith Owens, MD, is director of the hospital's Learning, Attention and Behavior program, where children are assessed, evaluated and given the opportunity to attend support groups that run concurrently with those for parents. "Here we teach coping skills, priority setting and self-monitoring," says Owens. "We track children who are prone to other psychiatric problems. By intervening sooner, we can provide more help. Despite having ADHD, children in our program feel better about themselves because they have the chance to work with others who are struggling with the same issues.
"About half of these children do not outgrow the disorder and will continue to be challenged throughout adulthood," adds Owens. But some learn to use ADHD to their advantage. Due to their drive for excitement, people with ADHD can be extremely outgoing, which can lead to successful careers in business, sports or politics. Because of their ability to think about many things at once, others have achieved acclaim as inventors or won devoted fans for their musical performances.
Learning to cope with ADHD is an ongoing process. While it may be a life condition, with treatment, understanding and support, it does not have to be a life sentence.