Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, is a diagnosis based on six or more very specific symptoms that occur on a regular basis for more than six months in more than two different settings. Unfortunately there is not one single test for ADHD in adults or children but rather an evaluation of behavior and cognitive abilities in a variety of circumstances.
ADHD disorder in children and adults can present slightly differently because of the different stages of life. In many cases the condition is diagnosed in childhood when the behavior associated with the disorder affect learning, schooling and other social aspects of the child’s life.
Children with ADHD will have signs of inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity in very specific ways. The children who have symptoms of ADHD are in constant motion. They don’t appear to be quiet unless they are sleeping! They don’t seem to listen to instructions and can talk excessively. They interrupt and intrude on others and are easily distracted. Many times they have significant difficulty finishing their tasks set before them by parents or teachers.
When the doctor evaluates the child’s behavior it in comparison to behaviors of children at the same stage in life.
There are other disorders that can cause behaviors that appear to be like ADHD but aren’t related. Children who have experienced a sudden life change such as divorce or death in the family, have undetected seizure activity, are anxious or depressed or have a medical disorder that affects the function of the brain can exhibit symptoms that are similar to ADHD.
Many parents look at this list of possible symptoms of ADHD and can see these in all their children, especially boys. That’s because the behaviors are typical children behavior! However, children with ADHD don’t have control over these behaviors no matter how hard they try.
The diagnosis of ADHD before the age of five is difficult and probably shouldn’t be attempted so that the diagnosis can be avoided if the child grows out of these issues by age six, which most children do. The diagnosis of ADHD is also more difficult after the child reaches their teen years.
There are several types of ADHD disorder in children. Combined Type means that these children have all three symptoms and is the most common form in children. Hyperactive/Impulsive Type are children who are both hyperactive and impulsive but are also able to pay attention. Inattentive type, formerly known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), are children who are not overly active and don’t disrupt the classroom but have trouble paying attention.
Researchers have found that children who have ADHD don’t make enough chemicals in key areas of the brain that are responsible for organization of thoughts. This disorganization causes the symptoms that we see in children with ADHD. More recent research has also found links between smoking, alcohol abuse and other substance abuse during pregnancy to ADHD.
Things that don’t cause ADHD but may exacerbate the symptoms and make it more difficult for the child to remain in control are sugar, food allergies, lack of good nutrition, Aspartame, lack of sleep, television and video games. Although these can make the actual symptoms more difficult to control they can also make the behavior of children without ADHD more difficult to control.
If you think your child may have ADHD you should speak with your child’s doctor. The diagnosis is only made after information is obtained from several different sources. You physician will work with you to gather the correct information and will order vision and hearing testing if they haven’t been recently completed.
National Institute of Mental Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
HelpGuide: Add/ADHD in Children
KidsHealth: What is ADHD
PsychCentral: Treatment of ADHD in Children
Medical News Today: BreastFeeding May Help Prevent ADHD in Children
Boston Children’s Hospital: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: How Common is ADHD
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Attention-Deficity/Hyperactivity Disorder