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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) affects about 5% of girls and 10% of boys of elementary age. AD/HD can interfere with an individual's ability to inhibit behavior (impulsivity) and/or function efficiently in goal-oriented activities (inattention). Symptoms of AD/HD emerge in early childhood and continue to be present into attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders.

Clinical evaluation

Three behavioral subtypes of ADHDs are defined: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined. The symptoms must be chronic and have persisted for more than A comprehensive, developmentally oriented evaluation should assess the child's functioning within academic.

Laboratory studies, such as a thyroid screen or electroencephalography, should be based on clinical indications. Lead levels and hematocrit should be considered in preschool children.

DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

At least six of the following symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity must be evident:


Lack of attention to details or careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities

Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities

Impression of not listening when spoken to directly

Failure to follow through on instructions or finish schoolwork or duties

Difficulty organizing tasks and activities

Avoidance or dislike of tasks that require sustained mental effort (eg, schoolwork or homework)

Tendency to lose things necessary for tasks or activities (eg, toys, school assignments, pencils, books)

Distractions by extraneous stimuli

Forgetfulness in daily activities


Fidgeting with hands or feet or squirming in seat

Not remaining seated when expected

Running about or climbing excessively

Difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly

Often "on the go" or "driven by a motor"

Excessive talking



Tendency to blurt out answers before questions have been completed

Difficulty awaiting turn

Tendency to interrupt or intrude on others (eg, butting into conversations or games)

Exclusionary Criteria

A. Some hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms that caused impairment must have been present before age 7.

B. Some impairment from the symptoms must be present in two or more settings (eg, at school and at home).

C. There must be clear evidence of clinically significant impairment in social, academic or occupational functioning.

D. The symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of a pervasive developmental disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychotic disorder, and are not better accounted for by another mental disorder.


Behavioral interventions. Parents may need training in basic management or behavior modification. The child may benefit from social skills training.

Behavior modification strategies can be used to decrease less desirable behaviors (eg, hitting), increase more desirable behaviors (eg, using words instead of actions), or teach a new skill (eg, negotiating). Strategies used to modify the behaviors include increased positive attention (eg, "time-in"), punishment (eg, "time-out"), and "selective ignoring."

Stimulant medications

Methylphenidate is the most commonly used stimulant. Other stimulants include dextro-amphetamine pemoline, and a combination of amphetamine salts (Adderall).

Effects of stimulants. Stimulants have significant short-term benefits in at least 70% to 80% of children who have AD/HDs.

Stimulant side effects

Behavioral rebound, characterized by increased irritability and activity, may occur as the last dose is wearing off. A small additional dose may be beneficial in the afternoon.

Tics or dyskinesias are an infrequent side effect of stimulants. There is no evidence that stimulants cause permanent tic disorders. About 50% to 60% of children.

Appetite suppression is common with stimulant use and may result in transitory effects on weight and decreases in height velocity. There is no evidence of any effect.

Stimulant Medications for AD/HDs


Dose schedule

Dose range

Potential side effects/cautions


(Ritalin or generic) 5-, 10-, 20-mg tablets

Initial: 5 mg or 0.3 mg/kg per dose

Increase: 2.5 mg to 5 mg weekly

Frequency: 2 to 3 doses/d

5 to 80 mg/d 0.3 to 0.8 mg/kg per dose

Anorexia, insomnia, stomach aches, headaches, irritability, "rebound," flattened affect, social withdrawal, weepiness, tics, weight loss, reduced growth velocity Avoid decongestants Monitor height, weight, blood pressure, pulse

Ritalin SR or generic20-mg sustained-release tablets only

Initial: 20 mg

Increase: 20 mg

Frequency: 1 or 2 doses/d

20 to 80 mg/d

0.6 to 2 mg/kg per dose

Same as regular MPH. May release unevenly Do not chew or cut in half 20 mg SR may be equivalent to 12 to 15 mg regular released over 5 to 8 h

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) 5-mg tablets (Dextrostat) 5-, 10-mg tablets

Initial: 2.5 to 5 mg (0.15 mg/kg per dose)

Increase: 2.5 mg to 5 mg weekly Frequency: 2 to 3 doses/d

2.5 to 40 mg/d 0.15 to 0.4 mg/kg per dose

Anorexia, insomnia, stomach aches, headaches, irritability, "rebound," tics, stereotypy, weight loss/reduced growth velocity

Avoid decongestants

Monitor height, weight, blood pressure, pulse

Dexedrine Spansules 5-, 10-, 15-mg capsules

Initial: 5 mg in AM (0.3 mg/kg per dose)

Increase: 5 mg weekly

Frequency: 1 to 2 doses/d

5 to 40 mg/d

0.3 to 0.8 mg/kg per dose

Anorexia, insomnia, stomach aches, headaches, irritability, social withdrawal, weepiness, stereotypy, tics, weight loss, reduced growth velocity Avoid decongestants

Monitor height, weight, blood pressure, pulse

Mixed Amphetamine Salts (Adderall) 5, 10, 20, 30 mg

Initial: 2.5 to 5 mg in AM Increase: 2.5 to 5 mg weekly Frequency: 1 to 2 doses/d

2.5 to 40 mg/d

Similar to

dextroamphetamine Well tolerated

Pemoline (Cylert) 18.75-, 37.5-, 75-mg tablets 37.5-mg chewable tablets

Initial: 37.5 mg in AM Increase: 18.25 mg weekly Frequency: 1 to 2 doses/d

Must be taken daily

18.75 to 112.5 mg/d

2 mg/kg per day

Insomnia, anorexia, stomach aches, irritability, headaches, choreoathetoid movements, liver dysfunction, rare fulminant liver failure

Monitor height, weight, blood pressure, pulse Obtain liver function tests at baseline and 2 to 3 times per year


Nonstimulant medications

Nonstimulant medications may be beneficial in children who respond poorly to an adequate trial of stimulants, experience unacceptable stimulant side effects, or have comorbid conditions.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are efficacious in 60% to 70% of children who have AD/HDs. Those who have AD/HDs and comorbid anxiety, depression, or tic disorders.

Antihypertensives. A positive behavioral response to clonidine occurs in up to 50% of patients. The best responders tend to be those who are overaroused, easily frustrated, extremely hyperactive, or aggressive. Clonidine has been used as a first-line treatment in children who have comorbid tics or Tourette’s syndrome or as an alternative to stimulants when there are severe side effects.