Should you medicate toddlers diagnosed with ADHD?

Written by: Enrique Torres


Doctors often recommend medicating children who have an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. After all, various kinds of medication (including Adderall and Ritalin) are approved and available for little kids.

However, parents should be aware that there is a lack of data on the long-term effects of ADHD medication on young kids’ developing brains. Katie Hart, psychologist at the FIU Center for Children and Families, shared with New York Times that fewer than half of the parents she and her colleagues surveyed were open to medicating their preschoolers. So, why is medication still such a commonly implemented treatment for toddlers?

William E. Pelham, director of the Center, stated that one of the main reasons medication appeals to doctors and parents is “because it works so quickly, often reducing symptoms within an hour.” Hart added that doctors don’t always suggest alternate treatments “partly because access to them can be spotty” and doctors may instead pressure parents to choose a medication-only treatment.

But is medicating toddlers diagnosed with ADHD necessary? More and more experts declare otherwise. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using behavioral therapy programs as a first-line treatment for preschoolers with ADHD. According to the Center’s researchers, behavioral training can reduce or even eliminate the need for medication.

“Trying such programs might be especially important since going straight to medication might not give kids and parents a chance to practice new behavior-management skills,” said Pelham.

This article first appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 20, 2019.