CDC Study Explores ADHD Treatment Prior to Release of Official Guidelines
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April 06, 2015

A study released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that between 2009 and 2010 less than half of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were treated with behavioral therapy.

The national study provides a snapshot as to how children ADHD were treated with medication and behavioral therapy prior to official recommendations in 2011 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The national study provides a snapshot as to how children ADHD were treated with medication and behavioral therapy prior to official recommendations in 2011 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study found that among children with ADHD between four and 17 years old, about 4 in 10 were treated with medication alone compared to 1 in 10 that received behavioral therapy alone. About 3 in 10 were treated with both medication and 1 in 10 received neither medication nor behavioral therapy.

On the younger end of the scale, the data show that half of preschoolers ages four through five received behavioral therapy and about half were taking medication for ADHD. Almost 1 in 4 preschoolers were treated with medication alone.

Among children ages 6-17 with ADHD, fewer than 1 in 3 received both medication and behavioral therapy.

"We do not know what the long-term effects of psychotropic medication are on the developing brains and bodies of little kids," CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias said in a statement. "What we do know is that behavioral therapy is safe and can have long-term positive impacts on how a child with ADHD functions at home, in school, and with friends. Because behavioral therapy is the safest ADHD treatment for children under the age of 6, it should be used first, before ADHD medication for those children."

In 2011, AAP released ADHD treatment guidelines recommending behavioral therapy alone for treatment of preschoolers and combination therapy of medication and behavioral therapy for children with ADHD between the ages of six and 17.

The study also found that the type of ADHD treatment varies widely from state-to-state. In North Carolina, for example, less than 40 percent of children with ADHD underwent behavioral therapy in the past year compared to more than 80 percent of children who took medication in the past week.

On average, states with higher behavioral therapy rates had lower medication treatment rates and vice versa. Rates of medication treatment among children with ADHD ranged from a low of 57 percent in California to a high of 88 percent in Michigan.

Rates of behavioral therapy among children with ADHD ranged from a low of 33 percent in Tennessee to 61 percent in Hawaii. This analysis was from parent reported data from the 2009-2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs.

A copy of the full report can be found here.