By: Anita Silvio
Do you despair of your child’s poor academic performance? Do parent-teacher conferences yield disturbing comments like the following? “Johnny has trouble focusing on simple tasks.” “Mary often blurts out answers and has trouble waiting her turn.” “Carl has difficulty following instructions.” Perhaps that same teacher has suggested your child may suffer from ADD. Perhaps you were already wondering yourself.
Definition Let’s start with a little bit of alphabet soup: The official term for what used to be called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is now Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, (ADHD or AD/HD). Why the change? Because we now know there are three main types of ADHD. One type is characterized by inattentiveness, one by hyperactive or impulsive behavior, and the third by a combination of both.
Warning Signs All children show these behaviors sometimes. When should you suspect these could be signs of a more serious problem? Specialists agree that at least six symptoms from one or both of the lists below must be present to consider a diagnosis of ADHD:
Signs of inattentive behavior:
- Difficulty following instructions
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Losing things at school and at home
- Forgetting things often
- Becoming easily distracted or having difficulty listening
- Lacking attention to detail, making careless mistakes or being disorganized
- Failing to complete homework or tasks
Signs of hyperactive behavior:
- Fidgeting excessively
- Difficulty staying seated
- Running or climbing inappropriately
- Talking excessively
- Difficulty playing quietly
- Always seeming to be “on the go”
- Blurting out answers or frequently interrupting
- Having trouble waiting his or her turn
- Interrupting or intruding on others
Specialists also look for evidence that these behaviors have continued for at least six months, and that they cause problems at both home and school. If you are kicking yourself for not seeing this problem sooner – don’t. Experts agree, it is common for these symptoms to go unnoticed until a child starts school.
Is ADHD Real? ADHD is very real. There is an overwhelming body of research and evidence supporting that conclusion. Brain scans show differences between the brains of children with ADHD and those without. We do not yet have all the answers, but we do know some things for sure:
- ADHD has its root in brain chemistry. There are many studies underway right now to understand exactly what happens in the brain’s neurotransmitters.
- Most people with ADHD have normal, or even above normal, intelligence.
- In many cases, ADHD is genetically inherited. If a parent or close relative has ADHD there is a 30% to 40% chance that a child will have the disorder. If one twin has ADHD, the other has a 50% chance of the disorder.
- ADHD affects 3% to 7% of school age children. Problems often last into adolescence. Two to four percent of adults have ADHD.
- There is absolutely no evidence that ADHD is caused by poor nutrition, poor parenting, drugs, allergies, or excessive TV.
- Special education legislation in the 1990’s increased school attention and services to children with ADHD. This has led some to conclude it is over-diagnosed. In fact, some studies concluded that ADHD may still be under -diagnosed.
How Serious is ADHD? Untreated ADHD can be very serious indeed. The most obvious problem is school failure. Other serious consequences include depression, problems with relationships, substance abuse, delinquency, risk for accidental injuries and job failure. Children with ADHD are more likely to suffer other mental disorders, including anxiety disorder, severe depression, bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (clinically hostile and defiant behavior). Early identification and treatment for ADHD is extremely important.
Is There Hope? Absolutely! Children and adolescents with ADHD can go on to lead very successful lives. The diagnosis of ADHD is quite new, but the biographies of many famous people, past and present, indicate they probably had the disorder. The great British leader, Winston Churchill, is one example. Mozart is another. Living examples include the athlete, Magic Johnson, and the founder of the Virgin business empire, Richard Branson.
Even if your child does not go on to become famous, a diagnosis of ADHD can be the first step towards a happier and more productive life. One mother whose child has the inattentive form of the disorder reports that, prior to diagnosis and treatment, her daughter could never find or locate things, was irritated all the time, and had difficulty paying attention in school. Now she is calmer and more focused, and benefits from her daily life being under greater control.
Effective Treatments for ADHD Children
The most effective treatments for ADHD include a combination of medication, behavior therapy, and parent support and education. Nine out of ten children respond to medication, and 50% of children who do not respond to a first medication will respond to a second. When ADHD is accompanied by other mental health disorders, a combination of drug therapies have been shown to be highly effective.
Behavior therapy is an important complement to medical treatment. Behavior therapy helps children by teaching them “survival skills” such as how to solve problems positively, communicate, and advocate for themselves. Children, especially teenagers, need to be actively included in treatment decisions. Consistency at home and school is essential. Schools can – and must, by federal law – make a variety of adaptations in classroom instruction to assist in your child’s learning. Some children may require special education services.
Most important of all is your support as a parent. Instill a
sense of self worth in your child or adolescent. Emphasize his or her talents and strengths. Remember that the side effects of untreated ADHD (such as failure, frustration, discouragement, social isolation, low self-esteem and depression) may cause more problems than the disorder itself.
Where to Go for Diagnosis Your first step should be your child’s pediatrician, who cannot only diagnose ADHD, but also do a physical exam, including vision and hearing assessment, to rule out other medical problems. Others who are qualified to diagnose the disorder are school psychologists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, neurologists and psychiatrists. You may wish to start by asking your child’s pediatrician or school for a recommendation.
CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention/Hyperactivity Disorder) has a great link, CHADD for locating local chapters and support groups in your area. From the CHADD website you can link in turn to excellent articles and information published by their National Resource Center on ADIHD. Or you can link directly to the resource center at Resource Center For information on other mental health disorders, we suggest you go to the National Mental Health Association’s website at Mental Health