Many Studies have Shown ADHD Drugs Do Not
Improve Academic Performance
The primary ADHD drugs are comprised of the psychostimulants methylphenidate (sold under such trade names as Ritalin and Concerta) or amphetamines (sold under such trade names as Adderall, Vyvance and Dexedrine). They are all considered to be in the same category as cocaine by the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.) due to their similar effects on users and their potential for abuse and addiction.
Anyone, whether labeled ADHD or not, who first begins taking any of these three chemicals (methylphenidate, amphetamines or cocaine) would find that their concentration seemed to improve for the first few days or weeks of taking them. They might experience a greater sense of confidence at this time as well. The increased ability to concentrate could even be on subject matter that they would ordinarily find boring or written materials they don’t fully understand.
Numerous Studies Conducted
In the 70’s and 80’s numerous studies were conducted to see how ADHD drugs improved academic performance in students. It was found that while they seem to improve academic performance in students and appear to, to parents and teachers, in the long run they do not really improve academic performance. As Gerald Coles stated in his book published in 1987, The Learning Mystique, A Critical Look at “Learning Disabilities”: “Worst of all for drug advocates, whether the studies were short- or long-term, whether they met basic scientific criteria or not, all conclusions converged: ‘stimulant drugs have little, if any, impact on … long-term academic outcome.’”
For more recent data about this subject one could read the July 8, 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Shirley Wang titled “ADHD Drugs Don’t Boost Kids Grades,” subtitled ‘Studies of Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Find Little Change.’ Simply google the title of the article and read it if you want.
In the February 12, 2014 issue of the Journal Nature there was an article titled “Medication: The smart-pill oversell,” subtitled ‘Evidence is mounting that medication for ADHD doesn’t make a lasting difference to schoolwork or achievement,’ authored by Katherine Sharpe. Google this title.
The Phenomenon of Teachers and Parents
Assuming Children on ADHD Drugs Are
Performing Better Academically
In the above article in the journal Nature there was a particular paragraph which deserves special attention: “In the 1970’s, two researchers, Russell Barkley and Charles Cunningham, noted that when children with ADHD took stimulants, parents and teachers rated their academic performance as vastly improved. But objective measurements showed that the quality of their work hadn’t changed. What looked like achievement was actually manageability in the classroom. If medication made struggling children appear to be doing fine, they might be passed over for needed help, the authors suggested.”
This statement is similar to the findings from a study published in 1983 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, titled “Effects of Methylphenidate in Combination with Reading Remediation,” by Rachel Gittelman, Donald Klein and Ingrid Feingold. The article stated: ‘It is common for parents and teachers of methylphenidate-treated children to report marked improvement in school performance. Yet attempts to document these observations have not succeeded; and it is now generally believed that academic improvement is not associated with methylphenidate treatment.’
Why the Drugs Don’t Really Improve
If a child on an ADHD drug doesn’t know what the word “hypotenuse” means and is confronted with a math problem using the word, he or she might be able to concentrate on the question unwaveringly for 10 minutes, but it is likely they wouldn’t be able to figure out its answer correctly. This sort of difficulty in study is not addressed and handled by giving a child a drug. It is addressed by finding and defining the word the child does not know the meaning of. Drugs don’t do that (and trying to guess the meanings of words usually doesn’t either).
However, it seems to be the case that children put on stimulant drugs, who then appear to concentrate better and be more attentive in class, and who are easier to manage in the classroom, at least initially, are sometimes given higher grades and more glowing report cards by their teachers.
The Role of Placebo Effect in the Delusion
There is another factor which is at play regarding the effects of ADHD drugs and that is the placebo effect, where one thinks they are doing better because they have swallowed a substance which they have been given to believe will make them somehow better. This phenomenon surely applies to some of the students given the drugs. But also, in a sense, both the teachers and parents of children given ADHD drugs may suffer from a similar effect in that they believe the drugs are helping their children learn and understand, especially since the children appear to be more studious.
The Bottom Line
But the bottom line is ADHD drugs do not improve academic performance in the long run. In fact, there are some studies which indicate they actually hurt academic performance, like the study cited in the article in the journal Nature referenced above.
To find out a great deal more and really understand the ADHD diagnosis and its drug treatments, buy this book. It could save your child from side effects he or she might not want to have for the rest of his or her life.