Positive Association Between Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder Medication Use and Academic Achievement During Elementary School

May 1, 2009 

Approximately 4.4 million (7.8%) children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and 56% of affected children take prescription medications to treat the disorder. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is strongly linked with low academic achievement, but the association between medication use and academic achievement in school settings is largely unknown*.

A recently published study in the current issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, which is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that students who take medication for the condition earn higher scores on standardized tests of math and reading skills.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health, and conducted by Richard Scheffler, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues, surveyed almost 600 students. The students were all in kindergarten in the 1998-1999 school year and were surveyed five times between kindergarten and fifth grade.

Results of the study showed that students who took the AD/HD medications had reading scores equivalent to about 1/3 of a year ahead of their unmedicated peers with AD/HD. On the math test, the medicated students performed at about 1/5 of a year ahead of the unmedicated group. Researches believe that there may be an underlying difference in the learning processes of math and reading that would account the for differing results by subject area.

While these results are encouraging, the researchers noted that even the students taking medication were still, on average, behind their peers who do have the disorder. Researchers are interested in conducting a long term longitudinal study to further study the effect of AD/HD medication on academic achievement. In addition, further research is required to determine if a combination of medication and behavioral therapy might be even more effective in helping these students improve.

* Source: Pediatrics, May 2009.


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