Is A.D.H.D stigma gone? Do the drugs work?

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 900 parents whose children have been diagnosed with A.D.H.D. to find out what it’s like to live with A.D.H.D. today. Here’s a snapshot of what it found:

From The New York Times:

* 67 percent found drug therapy to be the most effective treatment, followed by switching to a more accommodating school (45 percent), giving one instruction at a time (39 percent), working with a private tutor or learning specialist (37 percent) and providing structure by maintaining a schedule of activities helped 35 percent.”

“* 84 percent of those in the survey tried medication at some point, and more than half of the children tried two or more medications in the past three years.”

“* Medications, parents say, are most helpful with improving academic performance and behavior at school (35 percent described it as very effective). They are not as useful in mitigating behavior at home (26 percent), improving social relationships (19 percent, or self esteem (18 percent).”

Interestingly only 52 percent of parents agreed strongly that they would choose to give their kids drugs if they had to do it over. Forty-four percent wished there was another way to help their child.

The survey found that only 22 percent of parents of children with A.D.H.D. say they are hesitant to publicly describe their children as such.

Here’s how Health News Digest described it:

“There was a time when the label of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) carried a stigma. Parents didn’t talk much about it, and kids didn’t want their classmates to know that they were taking medication. But there seems to have been a shift in acceptance over the past few years, almost a complete about-face. Celebrities such as Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps, Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel, and Extreme Makeover’s Ty Pennington speak out about their condition. And just last week, the popular website Jezebel posted a blog that begins with the confession: ‘Because I have raging A.D.H.D.…’ ”

”Even the treatment has gone mainstream. The same drugs prescribed for A.D.H.D. are being sought for their brain-boosting capacity and are believed to enhance memory and concentration in adults. Scientists are asking for them, college kids are sharing them on campuses, and baby boomers are extolling their powers at parties. So frequently are patients requesting them that just last year the American Academy of Neurology issued a guidance for potential prescribers like me.”
“Indeed, when it came to using medication, a Consumer Reports survey of 934 parents of children with A.D.H.D. found that parents were not very concerned about the stigma of being labeled with A.D.H.D.. Among parents who had given their child medication, 59 percent disagreed strongly with the statement: ‘I feel guilty or embarrassed about having my child take medication for A.D.H.D..’”

One other interesting note from the survey: 8 percent of parents admitted to having their child diagnosed as A.D.H.D. to get extra time on college entrance exams.

So what do you think: Is the stigma gone for A.D.H.D.? Are there good drugs to help kids cope? Do they only help at school or do they help at home? Do you feel that finding the right school is equally as important?

What do you think of people getting diagnosis for extra time on tests or just to improve their memories?

62 comments Add your comment


July 22nd, 2010
1:51 pm

One more set of questions: Does anyone know the rate of diagnosis among the various races and income levels? I have NEVEr taught an ESOL kid with ADHD, either diagnosed or not!


July 22nd, 2010
1:59 pm

Michelle, if you have had more than ONe person suggest your child needs to be evaluated for meds, you are at the LAST RESORT now! People (at least school people) don’t make those suggestions quickly.


July 22nd, 2010
2:34 pm

Michelle, if the couple of people who’ve recommended taking your child to the MD for meds are from his school, then cast a skeptical ear upon their advice. School teachers don’t know a thing about it. Frankly, as a side effect of being around kids all the time, teachers become somewhat child-like and unreliable themselves as far as responsible feedback on such a topic is concerned.

john glennon

July 22nd, 2010
3:23 pm

The longest study done on real families using medication for ADHD was the Multi-modal Treatment of ADHD Children or the ‘MTA’ study done in the US and funded by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers compared medicated kids against non-medicated children whose families really had no interventions. They found that after 3 and 6 years of follow up, medicated and unmedicated students exhibited no significant differences academically, socially, or behaviorally. They did find that medicated children exhibited tics and stunted growth both in height and weight. Other studies have attempted to dispute these conclusions, but to do it, they rely on meta-data. In other words, they take data from previous surveys, or other data unrelated to real living families that can be interviewed, examined, etc., and draw conclusions. Fairly easy to see that one can pull about any conclusion one wishes from meta-data with a little massaging.

Granted, medication can play a role, but we must question whether we are medicalizing behaviors. Because Johnny is disruptive and defiant, do we say he has Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Yes, we do. He now has a medical disorder that can be treated with medication.

The Brits look on medication as a last resource. They first insist on behavioral shaping provided by parents and teachers, cognitive training, and if then, all else fails, medication for extreme cases. In the US we just throw medication at it and say, “It’s fixed!” Nonsense.

As an elementary school principal, I decided to be proactive and find something I could use to shape behaviors, attention, cognitive skills, and more. I discovered Play Attention ( at the Florida Ed Tech Conference. It’s a NASA inspired teaching game that improves those areas. The school has been incredibly successful with this approach.

Both parents and educators must be proactive if we’re to change the lives of our children. The skills I mentioned don’t improve because someone takes medication. Medication does not teach skills. It simply masks the symptoms. We must give them the resources they need to make the changes necessary to thrive and succeed at school or the workplace.


July 22nd, 2010
4:08 pm

@john glennon: Nice! All we see up here is how educators teach to the MCAS. It looks like they are not able (or willing) to change the way they teach.

Not entirely their fault, budget constraints and all that.

You are correct that you need to teach skills. Just curious though: What happens when a child is so disorganized/unfocused that you are unable to teach those skills? What happens when the child is so wild and you look them dead in the eye and say control yourself, and the child says I can’t? And you’re with that child 24 hours a day? You mention school and workplace, but what about at home? I can certainly tell you when my oldest sons medication is wearing off. Not that he’s bad, or doing bad things, he just loses focus very quickly. Not to mention picking on his younger brother incessantly.

I mentioned the Chaos to Calm book earlier. One of the excellent examples that we’ve read is: You tell your child we’re leaving, put on your shoes. The son is putting on his shoes. He puts one on, and you turn around to find that he is gone. You find him. Reading a book upstairs in his room. Sure, redirect and get him to put his shoes on, after quite a bit of time you just might be able to make him do it.

I know, you’re all saying that just sit there and make sure he puts his shoes on; this happens ALL the time. Not just the one instance. I challenge you to watch over your child all the time to do something. More easily said than done.

Now, he gets diagnosed with ADHD with everyone on board as I mentioned earlier. He gets his 5mg dose (twice a day) and you tell him to put on his shoes, and he does. He can focus. The difference has been tremendous.

Rambling thoughts from me…


July 22nd, 2010
4:40 pm

Of course there’s still a stigma. Look at some of the comments on here. My middle son has ADHD, and we do medicate him. Trust me, he’s not a zombie on the medicine, but he’s able to stay in one place for more than 10 seconds. And yes, he was disciplined. Far more than my other two. It’s something we’re still working on. He’s definitely more the hyperactive than the attention. His motor runs at about 130 miles an hour. Plus, he has alot of the defiance that comes out in some ADHD kids (hence the constant discipline). I’m working on changing his diet (very few processed foods, very few preservatives, etc), but it’s hard!

I’m sure there are some people out there who think that I allow him to hide behind his diagnosis, and if I was just willing to spank him, he’d stop acting like that. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Raising a true ADHD kid is HARD. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and if I could wave a magic wand, and get rid of his ADHD, I’d do it in a second. I agree, walk a mile in our shoes before you judge.

One more note, @abc, most teachers I know (me included) are very reluctant to bring ADHD up with parents. I never use the term (especially since it’s a medical term), but I do talk to parents about the behaviors I’m seeing from their child if it is something that is beginning to affect their learning. Most of the time, it’s the parents asking me if I think their child has ADHD, and my response usually is that they need to talk to their doctor, but I’m seeing (or not seeing) some of the behaviors that are common to ADHD kids. I’m not allowed to even mention medication (because then the school is required to pay for), and if parents ask, I’ll tell them that medication is only one choice, and their doctor may have other options for them to try as well. It’s just what I do. Others may do different things.

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July 27th, 2010
11:53 am

I have a 13 year old – just diagnosed. The struggle with “should we medicate” “should we not” is the just about the hardest decision I have ever dealt with. I’m still not sure what we will do – but I do know one thing for sure – until/unless you have a ADHD child the discussion on the pros and cons is all theoretical. The impact on the daily family life of dealing with an ADHD child is emotionally exhausting. It isn’t because a parent doesn’t care and wants the easy way out – it’s because a parent is desperately trying to do what is right for their child because they are loved and I know as a parent the decision I make either for or against will have long term impact. I agree with the sentiment – ‘try on my tennis shoes for a while’ because this is a very tough issue. My thanks to TechMom. Her note made me both laugh and cry because it is so TRUE to my life here.

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July 28th, 2010
5:40 am

Pilgrim it is a hard decision to make. My advice to you is to seek a therapist. That is what I did with my children. I had one with add, two with adhd,; one of which, calmed to add. I learned that they usuallly do better with less than three directions at a time and only expect the first two to be followed. I always expected my kids to behave well and they did. ADHD is no excuse to act bad. They know the difference between right and wrong. With my oldest son (add) I was concerned with his dare-devil ways. The psychologist told me that without dare-devils we do not stunt men, race car drivers, or maybe even firemen. With my daughter (adhd still at 20) she couldn’t sit in her chair. She fell out her chair at the dinner table, never shut her mouth, she fell up the stairs, she fell down the stairs, and she constantly got in trouble at school (which she still loves now that she’s in college). My youngest started off adha and now is add. He graduated and now is in the army. When my kids were taking meds I was most concerned with their growth. When they first started, it was ritalin or adderall, then the doc wanted to add in blood pressure meds, prozac, and other meds. You have to draw the line somewhere. I always took my kids off all meds during summer (against doc advice) to make sure they would grow properly. When they got old enough and complained about meds, I told them we’ll try you without meds and see if you can keep your grades up. Their grades weren’t A’s anymore but they definitely ate better. The doc said my youngest son whose handwriting is still attrocious, said his bad handwriting was a sign of adhd, I guess all docs should be on meds then. Just watch your child and listen to them. If they complain and say they don’t like the way the meds make them feel, listen to them, not the docs or the teachers. Also, remember that all kids are not going to be docs or lawyers. My oldest son is in lawn maintenance, my daughter in college for physical therapy, and my youngest son in army. My youngest son has real high IQ and was one the smartest in his class. The doc and teachers all said they thought he would be a brain surgeon. He doesn’t communicate with other people very well. Just remember; that even though we all want our children to be A students, the world is actually run by C students!


July 28th, 2010
10:28 pm

it’s true about the A student bit. — it’s not always the smartest kids on the block that make a success out of their life and relationships.