Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the name of a group of behaviors found in many children and adults. People who have ADHD have trouble paying attention in school, at home or at work. They may be much more active and/or impulsive than what is usual for their age. These behaviors contribute to significant problems in relationships, learning and behavior. For this reason, children who have ADHD are sometimes seen as being "difficult" or as having behavior problems.
ADHD is common, affecting 4% to 12% of school-age children. It's more common in boys than in girls. You may be more familiar with the term attention deficit disorder (ADD). This disorder was renamed in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ADHD?
The child with ADHD who is inattentive will have 6 or more of the following symptoms:
1. Has difficulty following instructions
2. Has difficulty keeping attention on work or play activities at school and at home
3. Loses things needed for activities at school and at home
4. Appears not to listen
5. Doesn't pay close attention to details
6. Seems disorganized
7. Has trouble with tasks that require planning ahead
8. Forgets things
9. Is easily distracted
The child with ADHD who is hyperactive/impulsive will have at least 6 of the following symptoms:
2. Runs or climbs inappropriately
3. Can't play quietly
4. Blurts out answers
5. Interrupts people
6. Can't stay in seat
7. Talks too much
8. Is always on the go
9. Has trouble waiting his or her turn
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK MY CHILD HAS ADHD?
Talk with your child's doctor. A diagnosis of ADHD can be made only by getting information about your child's behavior from several people who know your child. Your doctor will ask you questions and may want to get information from your child's teachers or anyone else who is familiar with your child's behavior. Your doctor may have forms or checklists that you and your child's teacher can fill out. This will help you and your doctor compare your child's behavior with other children's behavior. Your doctor will do vision and hearing tests if these tests haven't been done recently.
Your doctor may recommend trying medicine to see if it helps control your child's hyperactive behavior. A trial of medicine alone cannot be the basis for diagnosing ADHD. However, it can be an important part of evaluating your child if ADHD is suspected.
It might be hard for your doctor to tell if your child has ADHD. Many children who have ADHD aren't hyperactive in the doctor's office. For this reason, your doctor may want your child to see someone who specializes in helping children who have behavior problems, such as a psychologist.
WHAT CAUSES ADHD?
Children who have ADHD do not make enough chemicals in key areas in the brain that are responsible for organizing thought. Without enough of these chemicals, the organizing centers of the brain don't work well. This causes the symptoms in children who have ADHD. Research shows that ADHD is more common in children who have close relatives with the disorder. Recent research also links smoking and other substance abuse during pregnancy to ADHD.
WHAT CAN I DO TI HELP MY CHILD WITH ADHD?
A team effort, with parents, teachers and doctors working together, is the best way to help your child. Children who have ADHD tend to need more structure and clearer expectations. Some children benefit from counseling or from structured therapy. Families may benefit from talking with a specialist in managing ADHD-related behavior and learning problems. Medicine also helps many children. Talk with your doctor about what treatments he or she recommends.
WILL MY CHILD "OUTGROW" ADHD?
We used to think children would "grow out" of ADHD. We now know that is not true for most children. Symptoms of ADHD often get better as children grow older and learn to adjust. Hyperactivity usually stops in the late teenage years. But about half of children who have ADHD continue to be easily distracted, have mood swings, hot tempers and are unable to complete tasks. Children who have loving, supportive parents who work together with school staff, mental health workers and their doctor have the best chance of becoming well-adjusted adults.