April 19, 2021

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD: What is it? Does it work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a one-to-one therapy, for adolescents or adults, where a therapist teaches an ADHD patient how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interrelated and how each of these elements affects the others.  CBT emphasizes cognition or thinking because a major goal of this therapy is to help patients identify thinking patterns that lead to problem behaviors.  For example, the therapist might discover that the patient frequently has negative automatic thoughts such as "I'm stupid" in challenging situations. We call the thought 'automatic' because it invades the patient's consciousness without any effort. Thinking "I'm stupid" can cause anxiety and depression, which leads to failure. Thus, stopping the automatic thought will modify this chain of events and, hopefully, improve the outcome from failure to success.

CBT also educates patients about their ADHD and how it affects them in important daily activities.


For example, most ADHD patients need help with activity schedules, socializing, organizing their workspace, and controlling their distractibility. By teaching specific cognitive and behavioral skills, the therapist helps the patient deal with their ADHD symptoms productively. For example, some ADHD patients are very impulsive when conversing with others. They don't wait their turn during conversations and may blurt out irrelevant ideas. This can be annoying to others, especially in the context of school or business relationships. The CBT therapist helps the patient identify these behaviors and creates strategies for avoiding them.

So, does CBT work for ADHD? The evidence base is small, but when CBT has been used for adult ADHD, it has produced positive results in well-designed studies.   These studies typically compare patients taking ADHD medications with those taking ADHD medications and receiving CBT.  

So for now, it is best to consider CBT as an adjunct rather than a replacement for medication. There are even fewer studies of CBT for adolescents with ADHD.  These initial studies also suggest that CBT will be useful for adolescents with ADHD who are also taking ADHD medications.  Some data suggest that CBT can be successfully applied in the classroom, but the evidence base is very small.

How can this information be used by doctors and patients for treatment planning?  Current treatment guidelines suggest starting with an ADHD medication.  After a suitable medication and dose are found, the patient and doctor should determine if any problems remain.  If so, CBT should be considered an adjunct to ADHD medications.

Antshel, K. M. &Olszewski, A. K. (2014).CognitiveBehavioral Therapy for Adolescents with ADHD. Child AdolescPsychiatrClin N Am23, 825-842.
Safren, S. A., Sprich, S., Mimiaga, M. J., Surman, C.,Knouse, L., Groves, M. & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapyvs relaxation with educational support for medication-treated adults with ADHDand persistent symptoms: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 304, 875-80.
Solanto, M. V., Marks, D. J., Wasserstein, J.,Mitchell, K., Abikoff, H., Alvir, J. M. &Kofman, M. D. (2010). Efficacy ofmeta-cognitive therapy for adult ADHD.Am J Psychiatry 167, 958-68.

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News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

June 25, 2024