Understanding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Identifying ADHD and treating it in childhood is very important since it could damage an individual’s life, leading to school failure, stress, disruption, substance abuse, juvenile crime, and job loss.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition that affects 11% of school-aged children. In more than three-quarters of cases, ADHD continues into adulthood. Untreated ADHD can seriously damage an individual’s life, leading to school failure, stress, disruption, substance abuse, juvenile crime, and job loss. Thus, identifying ADHD and treating it in childhood is very important.

Children with inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity were first identified in 1902. Since that time, ADHD has received many names, including “Minimal Brain Dysfunction” and “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood”. In the DSM-5, this condition has been identified as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD

There are three primary types. Children may have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. These symptoms must last for six months or more, and be judged to be of a greater degree than other children of the same age, in order for a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder to be made.

Symptoms of inattention:

Being easily distracted and forgetting things
Becoming bored with an activity after only a few minutes
Having difficulty organizing and completing a task or learning something new
Regularly losing things
Not seeming to listen
Becoming easily confused
Struggling to process information quickly or accurately
Difficulty in following instruction
Symptoms of hyperactivity:

Fidgeting in their seats (even during meals, or during a quiet activity)
Talking nonstop, and at a rapid pace
Constantly running around, touching or playing with everything they can get their hands on
Symptoms of impulsivity:

Showing impatience, including interrupting other people
Blurting out inappropriate comments (“She’s really fat!”)
Acting without thinking of the consequences (playing with matches)
Having difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games

Causes

ADHD has several causes.

Firstly, there is a genetic component. ADHD runs in families. If a parent or sibling has ADHD, a child is four to five times more likely to have ADHD themselves.

The brain is also thought to be partly responsible. Neurotransmitters don’t work in the same way in children with ADHD. There are certain parts of the brain that are also smaller or less active in children with ADHD. Lastly, it is thought that the brain in a child with ADHD matures two to three years after that of a child without ADHD.

Diagnosis

No test can diagnose ADHD. It is diagnosed when a specialist sees no sign of a learning disability, no sign of autism, no sign of another mental health disorder, and after answering the following questions:

Are these behaviors excessive and long-term (six months or more)?
Do they affect all aspects of the child’s life?
Do they happen more often in comparison with peers of the child’s age?
Are these behaviors a continuous problem or a response to a temporary situation?

Treatment

Treating ADHD is complex, and the same treatment does not work for every child. It will often include medications to control the symptoms, psychotherapy to teach the child to monitor their own behavior, and even family therapy. Parents may also benefit from stress-management and parenting classes, to help them notice their child’s positive activities and contributions and to support the parent in the challenge of parenting an ADHD child.

Tips for parents

Restrict your child to one or two playmates at a time, to prevent overstimulation
Praise behavior you want your child to repeat
Divide tasks into smaller, manageable chunks.
Treating ADHD is a long-term task that involves the whole family. However, with care and consistency, it is possible for ADHD children to go on to be productive adults who are capable of handling their condition.

The doctor weighs in-

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