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Most kids who’ve been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder aren’t getting the right mix of medication and behavioral management that can make all the difference.

“These days, children usually come to a psychiatrist having already tried medication. It’s been a total paradigm shift,” says Dr. Cuffe. Some of that change can be chalked up to a more widespread understanding of the condition: Since we’ve all heard of ADHD, you’re more likely to mention your kid’s epic tantrums or short attention span to your pediatrician, and she’ll probably reach for her prescription pad. In fact, pediatricians now prescribe about three-quarters of ADHD medication. “Although they shouldn’t just write a quick prescription, it’s hard to do more when they only see a child for a few minutes at a well visit,” says psychologist William Pelham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University, in Miami. “Medication changes a child’s behavior within 30 minutes of taking the pill,” explains Dr. Pelham. But when the dose wears off four to 12 hours later, the behavior goes right back to the way it was before. Says Dr. Pelham, “The only way to maintain the good behavior you get on the drug is to never stop taking it.”

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