Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) typically presents itself in children during preschool or early childhood. It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, which means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, chances are at least one will suffer from ADHD.
The Causes of ADHD
Any time a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents wonder what happened, where things went wrong and if thereâ€™s something they did to contribute to the problem. While scientists donâ€™t definitively know what causes ADHD, genetics are the most likely culprit. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, other causes may include:
- Environmental factors, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol during pregnancy, or heavy exposure to lead during early childhood
- Traumatic brain injury in childhood
- Consumption of food additives such as artificial colors or preservatives
As scientists continue to explore the causes of ADHD, parents can be assured that children with ADHD can thrive with appropriate treatment.
The Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is characterized primarily by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Because these traits are typical in children and can be indicative of a number of other disorders, it is important that the child receive a thorough assessment and diagnosis by a mental health professional as early on as possible.
Symptoms of ADHD may present differently depending on the child and the situation. For example, some children with ADHD are restless and disruptive in school or jump into action before thinking about the consequences, while others spend hours daydreaming. When these behaviors begin to affect the childâ€™s academic performance or relationships with their parents, teachers or other children, ADHD may be the cause.
Mental health professionals recognize three subtypes of ADHD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD are:
- Hyperactive-impulsive type
- Inattentive type (previously known as ADD because of the lack of significant hyperactive-impulsive behavior)
- Combined type (displays both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms)
Common signs of inattention include:
- Messy or careless school work
- Difficulty paying attention to details
- Easily distracted and unable to stay focused on a task
- Struggling to listen to others or follow the rules
Signs of hyperactivity typically include:
- Inability to sit still
- Restlessness or excessive running, climbing or talking
- Fidgeting and constantly needing to move around
Impulsivity is generally characterized by:
- Failure to think before acting
- Interrupting others or initiating conversations at inappropriate times
- Difficulty taking turns
How is a parent to know whether their child is struggling with ADHD or is simply less mature or more excitable than other children?
Because it can assume many forms, ADHD can be difficult to accurately diagnose. If you notice signs of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity in your child, or if your child begins to encounter problems at school, speak with your pediatrician or a mental health professional. Your child may receive a mental health evaluation, IQ and achievement tests, and other assessments to gain an accurate understanding of the issues theyâ€™re facing.
The specialist will need answers to some of the following questions:
- How often, and in what situations, does the child exhibit ADHD symptoms?
- How old was the child when the behaviors began?
- Are the behaviors interfering with the childâ€™s relationships, school involvement, home life or participation in other activities?
- Does the child have any related problems?
The answers to these questions will help a mental health professional determine whether ADHD is the proper diagnosis and offer suggestions for treatment. A combination of educational support, medication, behavior modification and counseling can help children with ADHD lead productive, fulfilling lives.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity tend to diminish with age, and many children learn to manage their ADHD symptoms and live normal lives. However, studies show that some children with ADHD develop learning problems or behavioral disorders, such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, which can increase their chances of dropping out of school and struggling in their careers. Many find that specialized programs and camps for children with ADHD can improve their symptoms and boost their confidence.