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Attention Problems and Children IV  

This month I start to talk about what parents can do to help their children who struggle from attention problems. I’m going to first talk about medication treatment as that seems to be the most common thing done for attention problems. Please don’t think it is my first recommendation because I am writing about it first, I am just writing about it first because that is what it seems is most common for parents to be exposed to or to think about, whether they have a favorable view of medications or not.

The majority of drug treatments for attention problems use stimulant, drugs that activate the nervous system much like caffeine does. This seems counterintuitive to many, but when they work, stimulants seem to raise the ability of children to keep focused on what they want their attention on. There are problems with stimulants however, as they don’t work for all children and can have a negative impact on sleep and appetite. Some children also report the drugs impact the way they experience emotions, blunting them or making some children irritable. A nice part of stimulants is they are fast acting and wear off quickly, so they can be used sparingly at times when real focus is needed and not at other times.

More recently, some nonstimulant drugs have been developed specifically to treat attention problems. The general consensus seems to be they don’t have as much of an effect as stimulant medications but may be useful for children who can’t tolerate stimulants. They are longer acting and often take longer to have an effect. While the way they help isn’t totally clear, they may make long term changes in neurotransmitters in the area of the brain responsible for attention and other executive functions.

I want to emphasize, drugs aren’t a cure all and if you think of attention problems as being an impediment to learning, even if drugs have a significant effect, most kids have some learning to catch up on or to alter because they have developed ineffective patterns. There are also other things to be done than use drugs, and next month I will start to lay out some things parents can do to help their children overcome attention problems.

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