MONDAY, April 27, 2009 (Health.com) — New York City mom Nancie Steinberg recently received some great news at a parent-teacher conference for her 11-year-old son. The medication that her fifth grader takes to treat his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seemed to be making a difference in the classroom. “The teachers always had to have him by their right kneecap to keep him focused, but now they feel that he is very focused, an active participant and overall his academics are better,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief.
Now, if a new study is correct, these improvements may actually spill over to his performance on standardized math and reading tests. Elementary school-aged children with ADHD who take medication seem to do better on such standardized tests than their non-medicated peers with ADHD, according to a study in the May issue of Pediatrics.
“Previous research has shown that when children are medicated for ADHD, they get better grades, their teachers like them more, they are less impulsive and they stay focused longer, but we have never been able to say that they learn more, until now,” says lead study author Richard M. Scheffler, PhD, the distinguished professor of health economics and public policy in the School of Public Health and Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.
The gains seen in test scores, however, do not erase the test score gap seen between children with ADHD and their peers who do not have the behavioral disorder, the researchers say. About 4.4 million children in the United States have ADHD, which is marked by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing.
In the study, the researchers looked at survey data from more than 21,000 children who entered kindergarten in 1998 and were followed through fifth grade. They took a closer look at 594 children diagnosed with ADHD who had survey data from all five years. The children with ADHD who took medication scored 2.9 points higher in mathematics tests and 5.4 points higher in reading tests than their peers with ADHD who were not taking medication.