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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Psychosocial therapy, usually combined with medications, is the treatment approach of choice to alleviate ADHD symptoms. Psychostimulants, such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), pemoline (Cylert), and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are commonly prescribed to control hyperactive and impulsive behavior and increase attention span. They work by stimulating the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Possible side effects of stimulants include nervous tics, irregular heartbeat, loss of appetite, and insomnia. However, the medications are usually well-tolerated and safe in most cases.

In children who don't respond well to stimulant therapy, tricyclic antidepressants such as desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofane) and amitriptyline (Elavil) are frequently recommended. Reported side effects of these drugs include persistent dry mouth, sedation, disorientation, and cardiac arrhythmia (particularly with desipramine). Other medications prescribed for ADHD therapy include buproprion (Wellbutrin), an antidepressant; fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI antidepressant; and carbamazepine (Tegretol, Atretol), an anticonvulsant drug. Clonidine (Catapres), an antihypertensive medication, has also been used to control aggression and hyperactivity in some ADHD children, although it should not be used with Ritalin. A child's response to medication will change with age and maturation, so ADHD symptoms should be monitored closely and prescriptions adjusted accordingly.

Behavior modification therapy uses a reward system to reinforce good behavior and task completion and can be implemented both in the classroom and at home. A variation on this is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This decreases impulsive behavior by getting the child to recognize the connection between thoughts and behavior, and to change behavior by changing negative thinking patterns. Individual psychotherapy can help an ADHD child build self-esteem, give them a place to discuss their worries and anxieties, and help them gain insight into their behavior and feelings. Family therapy may also be beneficial in helping family members develop coping skills and in working through feelings of guilt or anger parents may be experiencing.

ADHD children perform better within a familiar, consistent, and structured routine with positive reinforcements for good behavior and real consequences for bad. Family, friends, and caretakers should all be educated on the special needs and behaviors of the ADHD child. Communication between parents and teachers is especially critical to ensuring an ADHD child has an appropriate learning environment.

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