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ADHD in the News – Meds Don’t Mean Better Grades

July 12, 2013

ADHD Meds and GradesNew study shows that kids who take ADHD meds don’t get better grades over time.

Makes perfect sense to me since meds alone are not enough to overcome and compensate for the challenges that ADHD puts in our path.

Meds are not magic!

They can do amazing things like help us focus, help us pay attention, make it easier to control everything from our 100 mph brains to our tapping feet to our impulsive behavior.  They can make it possible to do amazing things no one ever thought we could.

But, they can’t do any of that without the other piece of the puzzle.

The reason that kids with ADHD who take medication, on average, don’t get better grades is because they need to learn how to do all those things that don’t come naturally to them but that are made possible by the medication.

  • Meds make it possible for me to focus on one thing for a long period of time.
  • Meds do not also prioritize my tasks so that I am focusing on the RIGHT one thing for a long period of time.
  • Meds make it possible for me to consciously choose where I am going to focus.
  • Meds do not also make me choose the RIGHT thing to focus on.

Meds are not magic, but they are effective if:

– It is the right medication.

– It is the right dose.

– You have realistic expectations of what meds will do.

– You have the skills you need to do the things that the meds make it possible to do.

Medication isn’t the answer, but it is part of the solution to effectively managing ADHD.


Turning Leaf Life Coaching offers coaching for ADHD and Life Transitions worldwide over the phone and in person throughout NH, ME, MA, and VT.  For more information, go to

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2013 12:01 pm

    The analogy that I always use with my ADHD son is that meds are like glasses: They just make it possible for me to see the blackboard (showing my age); it’s up to me to figure out how to read it.

    On the should-you-take-meds question, I have to admit that the same analogy colors my thinking: Of course I wear glasses; why shouldn’t I take meds for my ADHD?

    Still, I recognize that some people would rather sit close to the board or can’t wear contacts or glasses, or can’t wear glasses because of the side effects (little metaphor mangling there), so I hardly think it’s a requirement to take meds.

    But if it helps you and has no serious side effects? Why not?

    We are going through this with my son right now: when he’s messed up in a big way, he recognizes that medication helps him make good choices. But when he’s made good choices for a while, he figures he can get by without them, and stops taking them. (And for him, bad choices are currently inevitable if he’s not taking medication: if there is a choice between the fun thing and the good nonfun thing, the fun choice takes energy x to make, the good nonfun choice will call for energy 4x. Even if he gets to do the fun thing after the good choice. Things have always taken longer and more effort for him, and he just doesn’t see the reward. Until everything comes crashing down.)

    • July 12, 2013 1:08 pm

      That is another great analogy! Thanks for sharing it and your thoughts on medication. As a coach, I try to be medication neutral meaning, I don’t take any kind of stance with my clients and I am happy to work with those who take medication and those who don’t.

      However, in my personal life, I feel the same as you. To me, not taking medication myself or not allowing my kids to take it would feel like I wasn’t giving them every opportunity to be their own best selves. If one of my kids had epilepsy or diabetes or a headache, I wouldn’t hesitate to give them medication that might help those conditions so I will never understand people who are so opposed to it. But I am not an evangelist either – just because it doesn’t make sense to me doesn’t mean it is wrong. I am all about figuring out the ways that work best for each person and family.

      I am also familiar with that struggle. As my boys have gotten older they have both expressed a desire to not take their meds. I gave them that choice and encouraged them to take a couple days or weeks and see what it was like not taking meds (we don’t do medication vacations since I don’t think ADHD only affects what happens at school). They both have and have both decided to take the medication again for their own reasons. I am lucky in that respect.

      What you describe is something I call being Cliff-Blind. Living with ADHD often looks like a person blindly racing off one cliff after another. To outsiders, it seems crazy that the person keeps racing off cliffs without learning to slow down and avoid cliffs. What they don’t understand (and what many of us ADHDers also don’t understand) is that you cannot learn not to race off a cliff if you never noticed it was a cliff in the first place. All we know is that we were running and now we are not and wow is our body sore. Then, something shiny streaks by and we are off, racing again, too busy with the shiny things all around us to notice the next cliff until we find ourselves on the ground again, wondering how we got there.

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