Written by P. Humbargar
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood disorder that can continue on into adolescence and adulthood. In general, the condition is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Although all children display these behaviors, they are more severe and occur more frequently in children with ADHD. There is not yet a cure for ADHD, but treatments are available to relieve symptoms, and children with the disorder can live normal lives and be successful in school and in other activities.
The American Psychiatric Association states that 3-7% of school-aged children have ADHD, and some studies have estimated higher rates. Boys (13.2%) are more likely to be diagnosed than girls (5.6%). The diagnosis of ADHD has increased steadily, with an average rate of increase of 5.5% each year from 2003 to 2007.
Scientists do not know what causes ADHD, but many studies suggest that genes play a large role. Environmental factors, such as lead, are being looked into, as are brain injuries, nutrition, refined sugar, food additives, and the social environment. There is no consensus among the experts as to any of these potential contributing factors, and research in numerous areas is ongoing.
Symptoms of ADHD usually appear between the ages of 3 and 6. Parents or teachers may first notice that a child loses interest in things sooner than other children or often seems out of control and has trouble following rules.
The symptoms vary from child to child, in severity and in type. Some children display symptoms that are predominately hyperactive-impulsive while others have symptoms that are predominately inattentive; but most children with ADHD have a combination of hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms.
There is no single test that can diagnose a child as having ADHD. A pediatrician or mental health specialist will need to assess the child to rule out other possibilities for the symptoms. Then, if the child meets the criteria for ADHD, the disorder will be diagnosed and treatment can begin.
Treatment for ADHD includes medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.
ADHD medications have been known to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity for many children, thus allowing them to pay attention and complete school work. The most common medication used for treating ADHD is called a stimulant. Ritalin is a well-known example. Although it seems counter-intuitive, stimulant medications actually have a calming effect on children with ADHD. Non-stimulants are also used in some cases. There is no one medication that suits all children, so several different medications and dosages may have to be tried before finding one that will help a particular child.
As with most medications, side effects from ADHD medications are sometimes reported. The most commonly reported side effects include decreased appetite, sleep problems, anxiety, and irritability. Less common are tics and personality changes, such as appearing “flat” and emotionless.
Besides, or in addition to medication, behavioral therapy is often used to help children with ADHD. This can involve assistance in organizing tasks and completing schoolwork. Therapists can also help teach social skills, such as taking turns, sharing toys, asking for help, and responding to teasing.
Parents and teachers can help by giving positive or negative feedback for certain behaviors. Providing clear rules and structured routines, at home and at school, can also aid children with controlling their behavior.
It is especially important for parents to provide guidance and understanding to a child diagnosed with ADHD. In the beginning, this may be difficult, and mental health professionals should be sought out to provide education and parenting skills training if a parent feels overwhelmed. Support groups are also available in most areas for parents of children with ADHD.
The National Institute for Mental Health offers the following tips for parents to help kids with ADHD stay organized and follow directions:
Schedule. Keep the same routine every day, from wake-up time to bedtime. Include time for homework, outdoor play, and indoor activities. Keep the schedule on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board in the kitchen. Write changes on the schedule as far in advance as possible.
Organize everyday items. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. This includes clothing, backpacks, and toys.
Use homework and notebook organizers. Use organizers for school material and supplies. Stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home the necessary books.
Be clear and consistent. Children with ADHD need consistent rules they can understand and follow.
Give praise or rewards when rules are followed. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism. Look for good behavior, and praise it.
Coping with a diagnosis of ADHD is challenging for parents and everyone else involved in the child’s life, and knowledge of the disorder and how to effectively deal with it is an important first step in helping him or her successfully live with the condition.
For additional information on ADHD and its treatment visit The National Institute of Mental Health.