Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is a chronic condition that affects children, with symptoms often continuing into adulthood. Common symptoms of ADHD include inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. ADHD affects the behavior of children both at home and in school. According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately eleven percent of children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD. Boys are more commonly diagnosed with this condition than girls. Children with ADHD often struggle in school, have poor self-esteem and may be at an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse as they get older. With treatment, however, most people with ADHD can lead successful and productive lives.
Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is classified by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD maybe difficult to diagnose at an early age, as symptoms of the condition are often typical behaviors for children under the age of six. These symptoms may be classified by type and may include the following behaviors:
- Easily distracted
- Makes careless mistakes
- Difficulty paying attention
- Does not follow instructions properly
- Frequently misplaces things
- Does not listen when spoken to
- Fails to finish tasks such as school work or other chores
Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness
- Constantly fidgeting and squirming
- Feeling restless
- Runs or climbs in inappropriate situations
- Constantly talking
- Has difficulty playing quietly
- Interrupts others
ADHD symptoms may vary in boys and girls. Boys may show more symptoms of hyperactive behavior and girls may tend to show signs of inattentiveness.
Causes of ADHD
The exact cause of ADHD is not known, however research has indicated that one of the main causes may be genetic. A child is more likely to have ADHD if a parent or sibling also has a mental health disorder. Other possible causes of ADHD may include:
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy
- Certain brain injuries
- Premature birth
Children with other psychological or developmental problems such as learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or depression may be more likely than other children to have ADHD.
Diagnosis of ADHD
In many cases, in addition to a parent, a teacher may notice symptoms of ADHD in a child if they have trouble concentrating or misbehave in school. If ADHD is suspected, the child is first referred to a pediatrician who will perform a full physical evaluation and rule out any other medical conditions. A mental health specialist, such as a psychologist, is often consulted for a full evaluation of the child. There is no specific test for ADHD but the specialist will gather information about the child, interview the parents, and the child individually and possibly the child‘s teachers and other caregivers. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, the child must also exhibit at least six of the symptoms listed for either inattentiveness, hyperactivity or impulsiveness. If the child meets the criteria for ADHD, he or she will be diagnosed with the disorder.
Treatment of ADHD
Once a child has received a diagnosis of ADHD, a treatment plan can be created. Treatment may vary depending on the child, and is often jointly decided upon by the parents, the child‘s doctor and a psychologist or psychiatrist. Treatment for ADHD usually includes therapy, medication or a combination of both.
For many children, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Common ADHD medications include stimulant drugs such as ritalin or concerta, that help to balance the levels of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. It is important, however, to keep in mind that medications do not cure ADHD, they help to control the symptoms for as long as they are taken.
Behavioral therapy aims to teach children how to manage their own behavior. It may also help children with organization,completing schoolwork and tasks, or working through difficult emotions. Parents and teachers may also be given strategies for controlling behavior through rewards systems.