Tags: In This Issue, Parenting, Special Needs
All of us have trouble paying attention, sitting still or being impulsive from time to time. However, for about 5-8% of children, these symptoms can seriously impact their daily lives by interfering with school and relationships with others.
These symptoms can sometimes point to a brain-based behavioral disorder called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD (called "ADD" previously). The disorder is characterized by symptoms such as:
-- difficulty focusing or paying attention
-- poor organizational skills and planning
-- being easily distracted
-- an inability to sit still and a need to constantly be moving; squirming; fidgeting
-- speaking or acting without thinking; interrupting others; talking too much
-- being unable to play quietly, trouble taking turns
As a parent, how do you know if your child is displaying common traits of childhood – or perhaps needs further evaluation from a mental health professional? If you are concerned, start by sharing your thoughts with your child's physician.
Diagnosis and treatment
There is no single test to diagnose ADHD. Your child's doctor will likely want to examine your child closely by asking questions about his or her behavior at home and school to look for evidence of impairment. The physician may administer a hearing and vision test to rule out other issues that have similar symptoms to ADHD. Some physicians prefer to refer complex cases to mental health professionals such as child psychiatrists and psychologists.
Treatment usually involves both medication and behavioral therapy. While there is no cure and ADHD persists into adulthood for about a third of children, ADHD can be successfully treated and managed. Treatment has been shown to improve school performance, relationships with peers and bonding with parents. Treatment may even decrease risk for substance abuse in the long term. Medication is usually a necessary part of a child's treatment plan as it helps children manage symptoms that therapy can't address.
Behavioral therapy can help families get organized and create a routine for children to help them better manage their symptoms. Therapy can also be helpful for children who are particularly defiant or have frequent temper outbursts. Parents can help children with ADHD by limiting distractions when it is time to do homework. The use of goals and rewards has also been shown to be helpful.
Exactly what causes some children to have ADHD is unclear but studies do show areas of the brain that control attention are less developed in children with ADHD. Physicians do know that ADHD is not caused by children eating too much junk food or watching too much TV. It is not the result of a less-than-perfect home or school life or even food allergies. Also, the common belief that children will outgrow ADHD is not always true. There is a strong genetic component to ADHD, as it tends to run in families.
Hope, resources aplenty
With the right education and support, children with ADHD can manage their symptoms successfully. The earlier these supports are provided, the easier it is to help children reach their potential. There are many resources on the internet to help parents learn more (i.e., CHADD.org). However, the first step is talking to your physician if you suspect your child may have ADHD. A physician can help your child get the right diagnosis and treatment.
For more information visit www.rileyhospital.org
Leslie Hulvershorn, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Chief of the Pediatric Mood Disorders and Adolescent Dual Diagnoses Clinics at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.