Medications used to treat ADHD not only improve short-term concentration for students, but can improve long-term academic performance.
That’s what researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered when they followed more than 500 elementary school children from across the U.S. who had been diagnosed with the disorder.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and published in the journal Pediatrics, used standardized math and reading test scores to track the children’s progress from kindergarten to fifth grade. They then compared their performance to peers who had also been diagnosed with ADHD, but were not medicated.
Those medicated students were found to be several months ahead of those who were not. They made gains in math that equated to about one-fifth of a school year, and gains in reading of about one-third of a school year.
An estimated 4 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD, and about half take medication to help with attention and focus, according to the study. Compared to non-ADHD students, children with the disorder have lower grades and higher drop-out rates. The findings in this study were important, the authors say, because early success in school can improve long-term outcomes for students with ADHD.
However, even medication didn’t erase the achievement gap between children with ADHD and those without the disorder. The authors say there needs to be more research on how behavioral interventions and targeted school curriculums—in combination with medication—can improve academic achievement even more.