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ADHD Treatments: How to Be a Wise Consumer

You've heard about a promising, new treatment for ADHD. A miracle cure -- or too good to be true? Here's what you need to know before you buy.
By: Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.

ADHD Treatments: How to Be a Wise Consumer

ADHD Alternative Treatments 85Alternative Treatments: Buyer Beware?
Your child has ADHD and you want to obtain the very best treatment for him. So in the spirit of "How can it hurt to try?" you might be tempted to throw caution to the wind when you hear about a new treatment that promises to help.

Promises are not enough. You also have the responsibility to invest your family's resources of time, money, and energy wisely. This means that as with any large purchase, you must become an informed consumer.

How New Treatments Are Evaluated

Proven treatments for ADHD go through a long, scientific process to assure their safety, effectiveness, and reliability. They are tested on large numbers of people with control groups in place. The research results are reviewed by the scientific community and published. Other scientists are able to copy the research and find similar outcomes.

However, some practitioners do not use scientific methods to prove the effectiveness of their treatment plan -- sometimes in an effort to shortcut the longer, more accepted process. There are many problems with this approach.

Proposed treatments stem from concepts which are outside of the mainstream of existing knowledge or just along its border.
They may be instituted long before there's any research that supports their effectiveness -- often after only brief, poorly designed trials involving a small number of subjects.
Measurement techniques and means of evaluation are scanty at best and often, single case studies are offered as proof of the effectiveness of a treatment.
The treatment approach is usually publicized in books or journals that do not require independent review of the material by recognized experts in the field. Often, in fact, the advocate of a particular treatment publishes the work. This method of self-publication should set off warning bells for parents.

Before You Buy
Before you spend your money, consider this:

  • Overstatement and exaggerated claims are red flags. Be suspicious of any product or treatment that is described as astonishing, miraculous, or an amazing breakthrough. Legitimate health professionals do not use words like these. Nor do they boast of their success in treating huge numbers of patients.
  • Be suspicious of any treatment that claims to treat a wide variety of ailments. Common sense tells us that the more grandiose the claim, the less likely it is that there's any real merit behind it.
  • Do not rely on testimonials from people who say they've been helped by the product or the treatment. Enthusiasm is not a substitute for evidence, and legitimate health professionals do not solicit testimonials from their patients.
  • Be skeptical about claims that a treatment is being suppressed or unfairly attacked by the medical establishment. Legitimate health professionals eagerly welcome new knowledge and better methods of treatment for their patients. They have no reason to oppose promising new approaches.

Additional tips
Before you make a decision about how to treat your child's ADHD, focus on these four issues:

1. Are you working with a knowledgeable professional whom you trust? Is that person available to you, and does he or she answer your questions in such a way that you feel you've been heard?

2. What are the available treatments? What is known about the effectiveness of each?

3. Keep in mind that specific problems are treated, not the diagnosis itself. Pick five specific target behaviors at school and at home against which to judge the effectiveness of whatever treatment approach you choose for your child.

4. ADHD is a biological/neurological condition. Parents don't cause ADHD. It doesn't occur because of faulty punishments and rewards, or significant negative life experiences. Those phenomena only worsen the symptoms and consequences of ADHD. If a problem didn't arise from faulty rewards and punishments, simply aligning rewards and punishments may not lead to long-lasting change. This is why a combination of medical, educational, social, and psychological interventions should be used to deal with the consequences and problems related to ADHD.

Adapted from "Controversial Treatments for Children with Attentional-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" by Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. and Barbara Indersoll, Ph.D.

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