Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders among children. It affects around 3 to 5 percent of all children, with boys being three times as likely as girls to be affected. About one child in every American classroom needs help with the disorder. ADHD often continues into adolescence and may even creep into adulthood. ADHD can make it hard for a person to sit still, control behavior and pay attention. These actions usually start before the person is seven years old, but they are not usually noticed until the child is older.
ADHD can only be diagnosed by looking for certain behavioral signs. The most common behaviors fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
- Inattention: People who have a hard time paying attention find it difficult to keep their mind focused on one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. It may be easy to pay attention to activities they enjoy, but focusing on and completing a task, or learning something new may prove to be much more difficult. They also tend to lose things such as toys, school work, and books.
- Hyperactivity: People who are hyperactive always seem to be in motion. They can't be still, they may squirm, wiggle, and fidget. Hyperactive teens and adults may feel extremely restless. They may be fidgety or the may try to do several things at once. This is probably the most visible sign of ADHD.
- Impulsivity: People who are impulsive seem unable to curb their immediate reactions or think before they act. They also may sometimes blurt out things they didn't mean to say.
Not everyone who is overly hyperactive, inattentive, or impulsive has ADHD.
What Causes ADHD?
No one really knows what causes ADHD. So it's useless for parents to try to figure out where they went wrong. There are too many possible causes to try and pin it down. What's important is for the family to move forward in finding ways to get the right help.
Research shows that ADHD may come from biological causes (not having enough of a certain brain chemical), not the home environment. When you think about it, it makes sense that ADHD and home life are not related. Not all children from unstable homes have ADHD, and not all children with ADHD come from dysfunctional families. Parents and teachers do not cause ADHD.
ADHD is not usually caused by:
- too much TV
- food allergies
- excess sugar
- poor home life
- poor schools
Children should be evaluated for ADHD if they experience the following:
- school difficulties
- academic underachievement
- troublesome relationships with family members and peers
- and/or low self-esteem
Parents can provide the doctor with valuable information about their child's school and behavioral issues. An ADHD diagnosis is a clinical, or observational, diagnosis made by the doctor; there is no specific test for ADHD. Extensive psychological testing, laboratory tests, MRI's, EEGs, or CT scans are not required.
Medications have been used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. Several medications in the "stimulant" family appear to be the most effective. For many people, they dramatically reduce their hyperactivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. Sometimes, when people see such a great improvement, they often think that medications are all that is needed. These medications can only help control the symptoms, not cure the disorder. Other types of treatment (such as behavioral therapy and counseling) and support are needed.
Stimulant drugs are quite safe when used as prescribed. Although they can be addictive in teenagers and adults, they are not addictive in children. They seldom make children "high" or jittery.
It's important that the child's family and teachers:
- Find out more about ADHD,
- Learn how to help the child manage his or her behavior,
- Create an educational program that fits the child's needs, and
- Provide medication, if the doctor and parents feel this will help.