What is the Recommended Treatment for Young Children with ADHD?

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Children diagnosed with ADHD at an early age tend to have the most severe symptoms and benefit from early treatment.

About 2 million of the more than 6 million children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were diagnosed as young children aged 2-5 years. Children diagnosed with ADHD at an early age tend to have the most severe symptoms and benefit from early treatment. CDC’s latest Vital Signs report urges healthcare providers to refer parents of young children with ADHD for training in behavior therapy before prescribing medicine to treat the disorder. Learning and practicing behavior therapy requires time and effort, but it has lasting benefits for the child.

“Parents may feel overwhelmed with decisions about their child’s treatment for ADHD, but healthcare providers, therapists, and families can all work together to help the child thrive,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, Principal Deputy Director, CDC. “Parents of young children with ADHD may need support, and behavior therapy is an important first step. It has been shown to be as effective as medicine, but without the risk of side effects.” 

The recommended first treatment for  young children with ADHD is underused. Treatment types among young children with employer-sponsored insurance in clinical care for ADHD.

Together with the support of healthcare providers, parents can learn specific ways to improve their child’s behavior and keep their relationships strong. Parents can:

  • Talk with their child’s healthcare provider about the benefits of being trained in behavior therapy for their young child with ADHD.
  • Learn and use their strategies to support their young child with ADHD.

Healthcare providers can:

  • Follow the clinical guidelines for diagnoses and treatment of ADHD in young children.
  • Discuss with parents the benefits of behavior therapy and why they should consider getting training.
  • Identify parent training providers in your area and refer parents of young children with ADHD for training in behavior therapy before prescribing medicine.

To learn more, visit the Vital Signs ADHD in Young Children web page.

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