Behavioral Therapy Absent From ADHD Treatment in Many Children

Fewer than half of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) receive behavioral therapy as part of their treatment, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among children between the ages of 4 and 17 years old with ADHD, about 4 in 10 were treated with medication alone, 3 in 10 received a combination of medication, and behavioral therapy and 1 in 10 received only behavioral therapy, according to the study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The study also found that almost 25% of preschoolers — children between the ages of 4 and 5 — with ADHD received medication alone for treatment. However, about half of preschoolers did receive behavioral therapy.

The CDC findings are significant because, in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released ADHD treatment guidelines recommending behavioral therapy alone for children under the age of six, given that the long-term effects of the medications on children that age is not known.

“Because behavioral therapy is the safest ADHD treatment for children under the age of 6, it should be used first, before ADHD medication for those children,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD, said in a statement.

The study also examined how ADHD is treated by state. For example, rates of medication use among children with ADHD ranged from a low of 57% in California to a high of 88% in Michigan. Tennesee had the lowest rate of behavioral therapy use in this population — 33% — while Hawaii had the highest rate with 61%.


Visser SN, et al. Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Children with Special Health Care Needs. J Pediatr. 2015; doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.02.018.