Children with attention-deficit problems improve faster when the first treatment they receive is behavioral — like instruction in basic social skills — than when they start immediately on medication, a new study has found. Beginning with behavioral therapy is also a less expensive option over time, according to a related analysis.

Experts said the efficacy of this behavior-first approach, if replicated in larger studies, could change standard medical practice, which favors stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin as first-line treatments, for the more than four million children and adolescents in the United States with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D.

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