What if ADHD Meds Don’t Work on My Child--What Do I do?

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Parents who receive a diagnosis of ADHD for their child are given a list of treatments. Stimulant or non-stimulant medications are amongst those. Some ADHD children respond well to medications and others do not. There may be a number of reasons why this is so which may include an inaccurate diagnosis. But in most cases it is because ADHD has a number of possible biological/genetic causes and some of these may not respond well or indeed at all to treatments. As with other medical disorders different genotypes respond differently to different therapeutics.

If they do not work, the child’s doctor will have other treatment options available to help minimize ADHD symptoms and their effects. But in addition there are many things you can do to help your child.

What if ADHD Meds Don’t Work on My Child? Encourage Regular Exercise

Physical activity (organized sports, running, jumping on a trampoline) help to increase the levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, key neurotransmitters in the brain. For children with ADHD, this is no different. Exercise helps to reduce symptoms of ADHD and increases the child’s ability to focus and pay attention, both at home and in school.

When a child with ADHD participates in physical exercise, the effect is as if he or she had taken medication. For this reason, aerobic activity such as playing a running sport, riding a bike or running, elevates valuable neurotransmitters, aids in the development of new brain cells and creates new blood vessels. If the child adds a physical activity that requires skill–yoga, rock-climbing or gymnastics, these activities help to expand the neural networks in the brain. [1]

Parents should actively encourage the ADHD child to participate in a favorite exercise or physical activity. To make the exercise period more enjoyable, parents and siblings can think of fun activities such as playing a game of catch, going roller skating or in-line skating or hiking.

Attend Therapy

Regular talk therapy with a licensed therapist or psychotherapist can be an effective treatment. Children with ADHD who are not able to get symptomatic relief with medications learn to control ADHD-fueled behaviors, as well as picking up new coping skills to help address the symptoms. Children who meet regularly with a therapist to talk about their self perception learn how to deal with low self-esteem; they learn skills that teach them how to see their good qualities so they don’t get caught in a cycle of self-dislike and depression.

A cognitive-behavioral therapist helps the child identify the negative self-beliefs and change them so that areas that have been problematic, such as school or interpersonal relationships, can change for the positive. [2]

A behavior therapist can help the child with ADHD to control poor habits and behaviors that cause trouble in school and at home. The therapist also helps the child learn to address and control stress, impulsive behavior and anger as well as showing them how to manage time and improve organizational skills.

What if ADHD Meds Don’t Work on My Child? Get Sufficient Sleep

Getting enough sleep helps the child with ADHD to function more efficiently and at a higher level in every setting–school, home and with friends. The child’s parents should help their child get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. In addition, children with ADHD should steer clear of caffeinated beverages or foods later in the day as these will cause overstimulation.

Provide a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet cannot “cure” ADHD. This is a chronic, lifelong condition. Instead, eating healthy amounts of all nutrients can have a beneficial effect on energy levels, mood and symptoms.

Parents who help their children improve their diets offer more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium and iron. The child should start eating more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy levels of monounsaturated fats. Sweets and simple carbohydrates should be kept at a minimum.


[1] Dr. John J. Ratey, M.D., Eric Hagerman. Your Brain on Exercise. ADDitudemag, excerpted from Spark and retrieved at https://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/7607.html

[2] Jocelyn Block, M.A. and Melinda Smith, M.A. ADD/ADHD Treatment and Help: Finding Treatments That Work for Children and Adults. Helpguide, retrieved at https://www.helpguide.org/mental/adhd_add_treatments_coping.htm