More than one in 20 American children between the ages of 4 and 17 are medicated for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—up nearly 500 percent since 1990. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have a reputation as “good-grade pills” and “cognitive enhancers” that produce near-immediate improvements in the ability of children to pay attention in school.
When the researchers in that study asked parents and teachers to evaluate ADHD children’s scholastic performance before and after medication, they found that though the children’s grades stayed the same, adults believed they improved, reports Nature.
Worse, parents’ and teachers’ inclinations to mistake manageability for academic improvement could actually be exacerbating children’s academic problems. A recently published long-term study of ADHD medication in Quebec (pdf, p. 25, registration required) found that, despite consistent Ritalin dosages, there was “little overall improvement in outcomes” in the short term—and in the long term, more of these kids dropped out of school and reported unhappiness.