ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity

MY CHILD HAS PROBLEMS WITH PAYING ATTENTION…

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity).

Signs & Symptoms

It is normal for children to have trouble focusing and behaving at one time or another. However, children with ADHD do not just grow out of these behaviors. The symptoms continue and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.

A child with ADHD might:

classroom of children
  • daydream a lot
  • forget or lose things a lot
  • squirm or fidget
  • talk too much
  • make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
  • have a hard time resisting temptation
  • have trouble taking turns
  • have difficulty getting along with others

Types of ADHD

There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
  • Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.

Causes of ADHD

Scientists are studying cause(s) and risk factors in an effort to find better ways to manage and reduce the chances of a person having ADHD. The cause(s) and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but current research shows that genetics plays an important role. Recent studies of twins link genes with ADHD.1

In addition to genetics, scientists are studying other possible causes and risk factors including:

  • Brain injury
  • Environmental exposures (e.g., lead)
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight

Research does not support the popularly held views that ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos. Of course, many things, including these, might make symptoms worse, especially in certain people. But the evidence is not strong enough to conclude that they are the main causes of ADHD.

For more information about cause(s) and risk factors, visit the National Resource Center on ADHD or the National Institute of Mental Health.

Diagnosis

Deciding if a child has ADHD is a several step process. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other problems, like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. One step of the process involves having a medical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other problems with symptoms like ADHD. Another part of the process may include a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms and taking a history of the child from parents, teachers, and sometimes, the child.

Learn more about the criteria for diagnosing ADHD »

Treatments

In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. For preschool-aged children (4-5 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy is recommended as the first line of treatment. No single treatment is the answer for every child and good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way.

Following are treatment options for ADHD:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral intervention strategies
  • Parent training
  • School accommodations and interventions

To go to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement on the treatment of school-aged children with ADHD, visit the Recommendations page.

Behavioral Therapy

Research shows that behavioral therapy is an important part of treatment for children with ADHD. ADHD affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention or sit still at school, it also affects relationships with family and how well they do in their classes. Behavioral therapy is a treatment option that can help reduce these problems for children and should be started as soon as a diagnosis is made. Read about effective therapies here »

Following are examples that might help with your child’s behavioral therapy:

  • Create a routine. Try to follow the same schedule every day, from wake-up time to bedtime.
  • Get organized. Put schoolbags, clothing, and toys in the same place every day so your child will be less likely to lose them.
  • Avoid distractions. Turn off the TV, radio, and computer, especially when your child is doing homework.
  • Limit choices. Offer a choice between two things (this outfit, meal, toy, etc., or that one) so that your child isn’t overwhelmed and overstimulated.
  • Change your interactions with your child. Instead of long-winded explanations and cajoling, use clear, brief directions to remind your child of responsibilities.
  • Use goals and rewards. Use a chart to list goals and track positive behaviors, then reward your child’s efforts. Be sure the goals are realistic—baby steps are important!
  • Discipline effectively. Instead of yelling or spanking, use timeouts or removal of privileges as consequences for inappropriate behavior.
  • Help your child discover a talent. All kids need to experience success to feel good about themselves. Finding out what your child does well — whether it’s sports, art, or music — can boost social skills and self-esteem.

Behavior Treatment for Preschoolers

The 2011 clinical practice guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that doctors prescribe behavior interventions that are evidence based as the first line of treatment for preschool-aged children (4–5 years of age) with ADHD. Parents or teachers can provide this treatment.

The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) conducted a review in 2010 of all existing studies on treatment options for preschoolers. The review found enough evidence to recommend parent behavioral interventions as a good treatment option for preschoolers with disruptive behavior in general and as helpful for those with ADHD symptoms.

The AHRQ review found that effective parenting programs help parents develop a positive relationship with their child, teach them about how children develop, and help them manage negative behavior with positive discipline. The review also found four programs for parents of preschoolers that include these key components:

Medications

Parents excited about their child's school report

Medication can help a child with ADHD in their everyday life and may be a valuable part of a child’s treatment. Medication is an option that may help control some of the behavior problems that have led to trouble in the past with family, friends and at school.

Several different types of medications may be used to treat ADHD:

  • Stimulants are the best-known and most widely used treatments. Between 70-80 percent of children with ADHD respond positively to these medications.
  • Nonstimulants were approved for treating ADHD in 2003. This medication seems to have fewer side effects than stimulants and can last up to 24 hours.

Medications can affect children differently, where one child may respond well to one medication, but not another. When determining the best treatment, the doctor might try different medications and doses, so it is important to work with your child’s doctor to find the medication that works best for your child.

Get Help!


Get Help!

If you or your doctor has concerns about ADHD, you can take your child to a specialist such as a child psychologist or developmental pediatrician, or you can contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or public school (for children 3 and older). You can fill out a symptoms checklist and take it to the child’s doctor.

Sharing Concerns

For tips on sharing concerns about a child’s development, click on one of the following:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsors the National Resource Center, a program of CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Their website has links to information for people with ADHD and their families. The National Resource Center operates a call center with trained staff to answer questions about ADHD. The number is 1-800-233-4050 FREE.

For more information on services for children with special needs, visit the Center for Parent Information and Resources.  To find the Parent Center near you, you can visit this website.

In order to make sure your child reaches his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for ADHD as early as possible.

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Discussion

Welcome to our  Discussion Blog in ADHD. While the content of this blog is open, we prefer that it be limited to issues dealing with ADHD and child development. If your discussion item concerns the different specific conditions on the right hand side of this page, it might be better to place your remarks under one of those links. Or you may also want to see our General Discussion page.

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What kind of resources are available to help a child with ADHD?
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My child can’t focus? Help??
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Because symptoms may vary across settings, ADHD can be difficult to diagnose. A diagnosis of ADHD...
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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral condition that interferes wi...
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