‘Smart pill’ doesn’t improve schoolwork

The “smart pill” isn’t so smartreports Nature. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) meds improve classroom behavior for the first year or so, but do little for academic achievement, according to “a growing body of evidence.”  

In the early 1990s, the MTA study began following four groups of elementary children with ADHD. They received medication, behavior therapy, medication and therapy or whatever care they had already been receiving.

After 14 months, the medicated groups showed better control of ADHD.  The drugs/therapy group had higher grades, but the regular care group was second best. And the gains didn’t last.

By three years in, the four groups had become indistinguishable on every measure. Treatment conferred no lasting benefit in terms of grades, test scores or social adjustment. Eight years later, it was the same story. 

. . . A 2013 review of randomized controlled trials longer than 12 months similarly concluded that there is scant evidence for improvements in ADHD symptoms or academic performance lasting much beyond a year.

A few studies show long-term gains in academic performance, but the boost is small and fades over time.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Reading the article, they improve the ability to complete boring, pointless assignments, but not the ability to learn…

    So maybe, an alternative treatment for ADHD would be to cut out boring and pointless classwork?

    • Obi-Wandreas says:

      Possibly; the ability to complete tedious work with no obvious value for no other reason than the fact that it was assigned by your supervisor, however, is as necessary a life skill as any.

      This is leaving aside also the fact that kids are seldom good judges of whether or not an assignment is pointless – often the point isn’t apparent until much later. And for kids, ‘pointless’ is often simply a synonym ( or excuse ) for ‘boring’. It is the boring but necessary tasks that take up the bulk of anyone’s day, and kids need to learn the life skill of being able to suck it up and deal.

      • Popping a pill does not teach life skills.

        The evidence (if you read the article) seems to imply the pills might have a short-term effect. For a few months, they help. Long-term, however, there’s no difference in grades or test scores.

        Is middle school homework an essential life skill? I have to say, from my standpoint, people flee pointless work as soon as possible–and there’s no connection between success and putting up with boredom.

  2. Ironically, it appears that medication is most effective when taken by non-ADHD young people to boost their performance on one-time tasks (tests, etc).

  3. I remember a situation where a new grad was trying to deal with a kindergarten student who cursed, spat, bit, hit, threw books and chairs at classmates and teachers and attacked classmates with scissors. She was large enough to require three adults to remove her from the classroom for time-outs. The rest of the class was terrified of her. Her mother would not even allow her to be tested for a behavioral disorder because her older kid had been diagnosed and she said that was racist County policy would not allow her removal, so the entire class was terrified all year. Not all parents care about the possible impact of their child’s presence on the rest of the class. Unfortunately. In my old public school, she would have received a good spanking (if lesser measures failed, as seems likely) or two, delivered by the principal, in the presence of a teacher. I think that lots, likely the majority, of “behavioral disorders” are simply feral kids who have never been properly socialized.