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Who Has ADHD? What's the Best Treatment? New Guidelines

This week, the American Academy Of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a condition that affects between 4 and 12% of school-age children. CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin is here with the academy's recommendations.

How does a parent know if his or her child has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder?

Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, typically have a hard time controlling their behavior in school and in social settings. They may get bad grades, be disruptive in class, or have a hard time making and keeping friends. Parents who spot these signs should get in touch with their child's pediatrician, who will make a diagnosis based in part on guidelines developed last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many doctors have found these diagnostic guidelines helpful because ADHD is a very nebulous condition that exhibits itself differently in different children.

Do doctors know what causes ADHD?

No one knows what causes ADHD. Despite this, doctors have been able to develop ways to treat the condition.

Let's go through some of the recommendations doctors are suggested to follow once a diagnosis is made.

  • Establish a long-term management program.

ADHD is a chronic condition. In fact, studies based on parent reports indicate that ADHD follows 60 to 80% of the kids with it into adolescence. In fact, there are even some adults who take Ritalin. So parents need to work in conjunction with teachers and doctors to make sure they are all on the same page with the latest information available.

  • Specify target outcomes.

As we said before, many children with ADHD may get poor grades or have a hard time interacting with family and friends. However, once therapy begins, parents should expect these situations to gradually improve. One way to monitor this is to set goals. For instance, a child who consistently doesn't finish his homework before the start of therapy should begin to complete assignments. It is important that the goals be realistic, attainable, and easy for parents and teachers to monitor.

  • Recommend stimulant medication and/or behavioral therapy.

A combination of stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and behavioral therapy is the recommended way to treat ADHD. In fact, about 80% of children will respond positively to this combo. Ritalin, as you know, is controversial in that some people say it is overprescribed and turns children into walking zombies. Parents with these concerns need to talk about them openly with their pediatrician. However, Ritalin is not the only drug out there, so if parents are concerned about their child taking it or if it doesn't work they need to discuss alternatives with the pediatrician.

  • Reevaluate the original diagnosis.

This hould happen when the child is not responding to the stimulant medication and behavioral therapy treatment. If this is the case, parents need to go back and figure out if their child may have other problems beside ADHD, including anxiety, depression, or learning disabilities. A child with any of these other problems on top of ADHD often needs to be treated differently.

  • Provide systematic follow-ups.

ADHD is a condition that needs to be constantly monitored. When a child is first diagnosed with it, he will have to make frequent trips to the doctor's office to make sure the medication doses are correct. Parents need to do more than just call and ask for refills.

  • Are there any side effects of Ritalin and these other stimulant drugs?

The side effects are rare and include weight loss and a suppressed appetite. Currently there is no evidence to suggest that it permanently affects a child's weight or height.

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