Starting Treatment for ADHD: What to Expect

Article | March 2018

Starting Treatment for ADHD: What to Expect

Has your child been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? It's good to know what to expect as treatment begins. The more you know, the better you'll be able to work with your child's health care team.

What do I need to know?

ADHD is a chronic, or ongoing, condition. So managing it takes a team effort from all the key people in your child's life. Here are the key areas to consider as you build a treatment plan:

  • Parent understanding: Try to learn all you can about ADHD and how to work with your child. ADHD behaviors don't stem from your child acting out on purpose. Instead, they come from your child’s response to their environment. This response is due to your child's brain make-up. It means you'll need to respond differently to your child than you might to other kids. Parent training courses can help you learn to respond positively to ADHD behaviors.
  • Teamwork: Your child will need to learn to manage this disorder in all parts of life. You'll need the help of a solid team of key people. This team will develop, monitor and coordinate a treatment plan for your child. The team may include teachers, counselors, a psychologist, psychiatrist, and primary care provider or pediatrician. It may also include daycare workers, and your family and friends. The members of this team may change through the years. But they will be your main resource for monitoring your child’s treatment plan. They'll also work with you on reaching the goals set as part of the plan.
  • Observation: Family, friends, school staff, and daycare workers can all observe your child’s behaviors. This information is used to spot problem areas and choose treatment options. It's also used to create goals and monitor results.
  • Treatment: There are many types of effective treatment options for ADHD. These include medication, parent training, and behavioral therapy.

Who should assess my child?

An ADHD assessment should be done by an experienced health care provider. The best choice is a psychiatrist, pediatrician, primary care provider, psychologist, or therapist. Your selection should depend on factors such as:

  • Your child's symptoms
  • The complexity of the symptoms
  • Whether medication is needed

The following chart shows the differences between each type of professional.

Type of Professional Able to Assess and Diagnose? Able to Prescribe?
Psychiatrist Yes Yes
Pediatrician Yes Yes
Primary care provider Yes Yes
Psychologist Yes Sometimes
Therapist Yes No

If your child is five years old or younger, medication may not be the right choice. It's best to have a young child assessed by a developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist. They may want to try behavioral interventions before other treatments.

Your child's resource team

Your child's team covers four main areas: medical, social, behavioral, and academic.

Medical: Your child’s primary care provider, pediatrician, or psychiatrist is key. They may make a recommendation about medication for your child. Health care providers will evaluate and monitor your child’s health and growth. Make sure to stay on top of the following:

  • Schedule a complete physical exam for your child.
  • Get a copy of your child’s growth chart. Share it with your child’s behavioral health provider.
  • Sign a release of information form. This allows communication between team members.
  • Get information on medication. Find out when and how it should be taken.

Social: You and your family and friends are some of the best people to observe your child. You can observe your child both inside and outside your home. Be sure to provide a structured routine for your child's days. Monitor your child and provide positive support.

  • Set a regular schedule for homework, dinner, playtime, and bedtime.
  • Create a study space for your child with limited distractions.
  • Maintain eye contact with your child when giving instructions. Have your child repeat the instructions back to you to help them learn to focus.
  • Fill out any behavioral checklists and return them to your doctor.
  • Look for signs of low self-esteem and low expectations for success. Make note if your child seems to have poor peer relationships or few close friends.
  • Check out local community support groups related to ADHD.
  • Enroll in a parent training course.

Behavioral: Your child’s behavioral health provider will work with you to build a treatment plan. This plan can help your child learn to improve their behaviors. Your provider may also work with you and your child to plan interventions. You and your child may learn how to practice new, more appropriate behaviors. You'll learn how to use praise and rewards. And you'll find out how to structure the environment for your child. Keep these steps in mind as you work with your child's behavioral provider:

  • Discuss evidence-based treatment approaches.
  • Talk about involving other members of your child’s resource team. They can help with the creation of the treatment plan.
  • Get behavioral checklists to be filled out by parents, teachers and others. This helps to create the treatment plan and measure progress.
  • Build a goal-oriented, behavioral treatment program.
  • Ask about setting up a School-Home Daily Progress Report. This report focuses on targeted behavior.

Academic: School and or daycare can take up a large part of your child’s day. Daycare workers, teachers, counselors, the school nurse, and the principal can all help. They may be able to help with giving medication and observing your child. They can also help with the behavioral management plan. Follow these steps to help maximize your child's school success:

  • Meet with your child’s teachers before school begins. Let them know what to expect from your child.
  • Ask your child's teachers to complete the behavioral checklists. You might also ask them to sign release of information forms.
  • Help your child with the transition to a new teacher or classroom. Change can be difficult for children with ADHD.
  • Identify which school staff members will be on your child’s resource team.
  • Ask about tutoring or other educational resources.
  • Ask about your child’s educational rights. Talk with the staff about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Individuals with Disability Act of 1997.

What else can I do?

Wondering what else you can do to help your child? Check out the following helpful tools and resources:

  • Check out local support groups and parent training classes.
  • If your child is taking medication, keep track of it in a log. Share it with your health care provider at each visit. The log will allow them to see if medication is helping. It can also help them spot side effects.
  • When you start to see results, work with your child's team to maintain the results and set new goals.
Male couple and two daughters playing clapping game on sitting room floor

Source: National Institute of Health (2016); Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.