June 29, 2020
For parents weighing the pros and cons of ADHD medication for their school-age child, a new study suggests that stimulants are not particularly helpful when it comes to finishing homework or getting better grades.
In a small, short-term study that compared medication use to behavioral therapy among children ages 5 to 12, researchers found that medication did not impact homework completion or accuracy when compared to the same-age children who were given a placebo.
However, the group receiving a 2-week behavioral intervention completed up to 13% more homework problems (8% more accurately) than those in the medication or placebo groups. According to a report in Reuters, “This translates into the difference between getting an average passing grade of C with behavioral help, compared with an average failing grade of F without intervention, the authors conclude.”
Timing Is Everything
Skeptics suggest that the timing of the medication might have played a role in the study results. Dr. Jumaini Rucker Coker, a pediatric researcher at Seattle Child’s Hospital and the University of Washington who was not involved in the study pointed out that the effects of medication given early in the day might have limited benefit to work done in the late afternoon:
Since the homework performance was measured so many hours after the medication was given, it is not surprising that there was no medication effect. It doesn’t suggest that the child does not need the medication. It may suggest, however, that by evening hours when the effect of the medication has dissipated, behavioral interventions will be even more important to help the child get through evening homework time.