Stimulant medications are widely used to improve the core symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, including inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, but there is less evidence that the medications improve academic performance over the long term.
In the study, “A Population-Based Study of Stimulant Drug Treatment of ADHD and Academic Progress in Children,” in the July 2012 Pediatrics (published online June 25), researchers studied the prescription drug use and performance on standardized tests of all children born over a three-year period in Iceland.
Children without ADHD performed at a consistent level on the fourth grade and seventh grade tests. In contrast, children taking ADHD medications had lower scores on the seventh-grade tests, especially in math, but children who began taking medications soonest after their fourth-grade test showed the smallest declines. Children who began drug treatment within 12 months of their fourth-grade test declined only 0.3 percentile points in math, compared with a decline of 9.4 percentile points in children who began taking medication 25 to 36 months after their fourth-grade test. The effect was greater in girls than boys and also greater for children who did poorly on their fourth grade test.
Study authors conclude that later start of stimulant drug treatment of ADHD among 9- to 12-year-old children is associated with academic decline in math.