6 Steps to Take If ADHD Medication Isn’t Working for Your Child

By Amanda Morin

Most experts agree that ADHD medication is the most effective treatment for ADHD. But it doesn’t work for 20 to 30 percent of kids, according to the CDC. And even when there’s some benefit, parents may find that the ADHD medication is not working well enough.

Your child’s ADHD symptoms might subside at certain times of day but get worse than usual at other times. Or you may not be seeing the progress you expected to see after your child started medication. Here are steps you can take if ADHD medication doesn’t seem to be working for your child.

Understood is not affiliated with any pharmaceutical company.

Know what “working” looks like.

The best way to gauge whether your child’s medication isn’t working is to know what you’d be seeing if it were working. The goal isn’t to “get rid of” ADHD symptoms. But you should see a decrease in the intensity of symptoms and in how much they disrupt your child’s life.

Talk with the doctor about the specific goals of taking medication for your child. It can also help to understand how ADHD medication works in the brain and the difference between stimulant and non-stimulant medication.

Monitor your child’s medication and take notes.

One way to do this is by using an ADHD medication log. It helps you keep track of your child’s sleep, eating and behaviors. That information can help you start to identify patterns and pinpoint your concerns.

Look for patterns.

Are your child’s symptoms worse at certain times of day than others? Do they seem to get better after certain activities? Is your child’s impulsivity better, while focus is still a struggle? Asking yourself questions like these allows you to figure out if the medication is helping a lot, a little, or not at all. And your child’s prescriber will need this specific information when you talk about next steps.

Observe your child’s personality, too.

There are some side effects of stimulant medication that can affect personality. One is a “flattened affect.” This might look like your child not wanting to socialize or becoming withdrawn and quiet. Other side effects might be changes in how your child reacts to things, poorer sleep, or increased tiredness.

If the medication is working effectively, you shouldn’t see a change in personality. Your child’s ability to focus and self-regulate will improve. But your child should be the same kid as always.

Consider adjusting or changing your child’s medication.

Talk to your child’s prescriber about what you’ve been seeing. Together you may decide to fine-tune your child’s dosage or try another medication altogether.

There are various types of ADHD medication. They have their own benefits and side effects, and medications can work in different ways in different people. Many kids try a various doses or medications before they find the right fit. Sometimes it helps to change between stimulant and non-stimulant medication.

Keep in mind that ADHD is genetic. Tell your child’s prescriber if there’s a family member with ADHD. If that person takes ADHD medication that’s effective, your child may respond well to that medication, too.

Explore other treatment options.

You and your child’s prescriber may decide that ADHD medication isn’t the best fit for your child. Or you may want to try other treatments in addition to the medication. Behavior therapy can be helpful for many kids. Certain lifestyle changes may be beneficial, too.

Non-medication treatments that have been shown in studies to help reduce the impact of ADHD symptoms include exercise, mindfulness meditation, practicing good sleep habits and cognitive behavioral therapy. Omega 3-6-9 (found in fish oil) may also provide some benefits.

Learn more about alternatives to ADHD medication. You can also talk with other parents in the Understood Community about their experience with ADHD medication.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.