ADD and ADHD
Identifying and treating attention deficit problems
It seems these days that any child who misbehaves or has trouble sitting still has ADHD. But is this really the case? Or are fidgeting and distractibility simply normal childhood behaviors? It is a constant issue in the news and in the schools. Most people aren't sure what exactly the symptoms of ADHD are and whether or not they should be treated. It is important for parents to inform themselves and become involved in the decisions schools and doctors make about their children.
So what is ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a behavioral disorder that affects an estimated 8 to 10 percent of school-aged children. It tends to first appear in the preschool or early school years, and it is three times more common in boys than in girls.
Your child may be evaluated for ADHD if he or she:
- Is hyperactive
- Has trouble focusing
- Has trouble sitting still
- Has trouble paying attention
- Is disruptive in class
- Acts without thinking
Of course, all normal children display these traits occasionally, but in the child with ADHD, these behaviors occur more often and interfere with the child's academic, social and family life.
There are two sub-types of this disorder, each with different symptoms:
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is characterized by forgetfulness, distractibility, short attention span, difficulty following instructions and frequent careless mistakes in schoolwork. It is more common in girls.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by fidgeting, difficulty sitting still or waiting one's turn, excessive talking and interrupting of others and difficulty playing quietly. It is more common in boys.
ADHD is usually diagnosed by your family physician, a pediatrician or the school psychologist. Although there are many screening tests that can indicate a possible problem, there is no single ADHD test or ADD test that can determine whether a child has the disorder. Instead, your doctor will do a comprehensive evaluation of your child's physical health, family medical history and behavioral issues.
First, your doctor will rule out other possible causes of your child's attention problems, such as:
- Hearing or vision problems
- Emotional problems (e.g., depression)
- Recent stressful situations (e.g., divorce, new school)
- Reactions to a medication
- Inadequate sleep
To be diagnosed as ADHD, the symptoms must:
- Occur before age 7
- Last for at least 6 months
- Negatively affect the child's ability to function at school and at home
There is no cure for ADHD, but it can be successfully managed. Your doctor can work with you to decide what treatment or what combination of treatments will best suit you and your child. There are several approaches to consider:
- Medications for ADHD: The most commonly prescribed medications for ADD and ADHD are stimulants such as Ritalin. They actually have a calming effect on hyperactive children, helping them to sit still and concentrate. Most are not recommended for children under 6, and side effects include nervousness, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and social withdrawal. If stimulants are not effective, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as Wellbutrin. Antidepressants have recently been associated with an increased risk of suicide in children, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
- ADHD diet: If you prefer a natural ADHD remedy to a pharmaceutical approach, you might try diet manipulation. Some people find that cutting out dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, food colorings and processed meats makes a difference. Try a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet with supplements of minerals and omega oils.
- Behavior therapy: Simple strategies such as limiting choices, creating and sticking to a rigid routine, and eliminating distractions like television and computer games can help your child cope with ADHD.
Above all, remember that your child is not acting out or misbehaving on purpose. He or she has difficulty controlling behavior and needs your guidance and patience. This can be challenging; ADHD help is available to you online, through the school and in community support groups.