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Recognizing and Treating ADHD

Kevin twists and fidgets as he tries to work on his homework. Unable to find his assignment sheet in his messy binder, he leaps up and begins to run through the house, pretending to be an airplane with its engine going full blast. “Stop before you break something,” his mother demands. He doesn’t look at his mother or even seem to hear her. Both Kevin and his mother are frustrated by this familiar battle. But his mom has another worry. Is her son just a very active boy, or is he one of the millions of kids who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, often called ADHD?

ADHD Today

ADHD is the term now used for a condition that affects millions of children and adults. It has had several names over the past 100 years, but today’s scientists believe that these names stand for different types of ADHD. There are three types—inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—and each has different symptoms.(1)

According to the Center for Mental Health Services, children with the inattentive type may:

Be distracted easily.
Make many mistakes.
Fail to finish things.
Seem not to listen.
Be unable to stay organized.
Not pay attention to details.
Have trouble remembering things.
Have short attention spans.
Children with the hyperactive-impulsive type may:

Fidget and squirm.
Be unable to stay seated or play quietly.
Run or climb too much or when they should not.
Talk too much or when they should not.
Blurt out answers before questions are completed.
Have trouble taking turns.
Interrupt others.
The most common type is combined attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a combination of the two lists above.

How can a parent or other caring adult tell when a child has ADHD or when she is just an active child? After all, whose child does not have trouble sometimes with remembering things, staying seated, or not interrupting? No simple test can tell whether someone has ADHD.

A trained professional can look at all of the signs, consider different possible causes, and make an evaluation. A diagnosis of one of the ADHD types is usually made when children have several of the above symptoms that begin before age 7 and last at least 6 months.(2) Generally, symptoms have to be observed in at least two settings, such as home and school, before a diagnosis is made.(3) Getting the right diagnosis is the first step toward treatment.

Treatment of ADHD

It takes a doctor to diagnose ADHD accurately. It will take the child’s family and other caring adults to help treat it. The treatment of ADHD is changing as research removes many of the myths that surround it.

Many causes of ADHD have been studied, but no one cause seems to apply to all young people with the disorder.(5) ADHD is not caused by poor parenting, family problems, poor teachers or schools, too much TV, or food allergies.(6) ADHD does appear to be related directly to the functioning of the brain. There is increasing evidence that ADHD runs in families.(7)

Recent research shows that ADHD can happen to girls as well as to boys and that most children do not “outgrow” it as they become adults.(4) It cannot be fixed through harsh discipline. However, with parents’ and teachers’ vigilance and patience, many children can learn to channel their energy—especially when Mom and Dad take time to learn about their interests and strengths and help them find activities that are right for them. Because there is no “cure” for ADHD and no single treatment option that is right for everyone, treatment plans should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual and family.(8) Treating ADHD often requires medical, educational, behavioral, and psychological intervention. It may include the following:

Parent training.
Behavioral intervention strategies.
An appropriate educational program.
Education regarding ADHD.
Individual and family counseling.
Medication, when necessary.(9)
A parent or caregiver whose child has been diagnosed with ADHD should work closely with his teachers to help him do better in school. ADHD is recognized as a disability under Federal law, and your child may qualify for special education services. He also will benefit when his parents and teachers use the same methods at home and school to help him control his behaviors.

If your child has ADHD, talk with her. Let her know that her behavior is not her “fault” (or your “fault”) and do your best to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Facing the challenge of ADHD will be easier for your child if she feels like you understand what she goes through every day. Both you and your child must learn ways to cope with her ADHD symptoms. The goal is a united effort to help your child do better in school, make friends, and feel good about herself.

Sources for Recognizing and Treating ADHD
1, 2, 3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services. Children’s Mental Health Facts: Children and Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, last referenced 9/12/2006. (A print version of this publication was released in 2003.)

4 National Resource Center on ADHD. Myths and Misconceptions About ADHD: Science Over Cynicism, last referenced 9/12/2006. (This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Attention! magazine.)

5, 6, 7 Attention Deficit Disorder Association. Fact Sheet on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/AD/HD), last referenced 9/12/2006.

8, 9 National Resource Center on ADHD. Diagnosis & Treatment, last referenced 9/12/2006.

Reprinted with permission by SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. For more information, visit www.SAMHSA.gov

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.


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