A common disorder affecting children is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, otherwise known as ADHD. At one time, children with ADHD were misunderstood, with some people believing that children were simply misbehaving or that they had to have suffered some form of brain damage. Over time, as doctors and researchers have come to better understand the disorder, the number of children diagnosed with the disorder has also increased. Although studies vary, according to statistics presented by the CDC, there are approximately 5.2 million children between the ages of three and seventeen who have been diagnosed with the condition in the United States. This translates into approximately 8.4 percent of children within that age group. In nearly all instances the disorder does not fade as the child ages. Instead many children with ADHD turn into adults with the condition. Learning about ADHD can help parents to recognize the warnings signs that may lead to diagnosis. Knowledge of the condition also helps loved ones to better understand and cope with the condition and how it may affect a lifetime of interactions with others.
What is ADHD?
The answer to this question is one of the first things that people should understand. It is what is known as a neurobehavioral disorder, which is a type of disorder that is associated with a CNS, or central nervous system dysfunction. People who have this disorder are often unable to stay focused and may have difficulty in controlling their behavior and impulses. Although adults may have ADHD it is primarily diagnosed during childhood, and it can be broken down into three subtypes. These are the Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined subtypes. With the predominantly inattentive subtype, the affected person becomes distracted easily and has difficulty completing work or tasks. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is characterized by restlessnes and an inability to sit still. With this type of ADHD the person may appear hyperactive. As the name suggests, combined ADHD is a combination of the two previous subtypes.
Diagnosing ADHD involves a number of steps. These steps do not involve blood tests and cannot be determined by a physical examination alone. When a child is taken to see a doctor, his or her parents will need to answer questions regarding the type and onset of symptoms, the severity of symptoms and if there is a specific environment in which they most often appear. The doctor will review the symptoms, rule out similar conditions, and compare them to a checklist of ADHD symptoms to determine if he or she meets the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria which can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The child must then have six or more of the primary symptoms that are associated with the condition. In attempting to determine if an adult has ADHD, the doctors are faced with a more difficult task. In addition to a medical history dating back to childhood and a review of symptoms, the doctor will likely speak with a parent or spouse about behavior and symptoms, conduct a medical examination and attention-span testing.
There is a continuing effort to determine the exact cause of ADHD. One of the causes could be small differences that are found in the front part of the brain in people who have ADHD that non-ADHD people do not have. While researchers cannot say with one hundred percent positivity, it is believed that genetics is also major factor as parents who have ADHD often have children with the condition. Smoking, exposure to lead, and other environmental factors may also contribute to the likelihood that a person will have ADHD. During pregnancy maternal exposure to environmental toxins or to alcohol and tobacco from smoking may also result in the condition. In some instances, head injury may result in the condition, however, it is not a major cause of the disorder and only occurs in a small percentage of cases. Although it is commonly and inaccurately believed that sugar can cause ADHD, studies have found that it does not have an affect on whether a child has the disorder. Poor parenting and/or teaching also do not result in a child having the disorder.
Children with ADHD will display certain types of symptoms that are hard to dismiss or miss. Often children with this disorder are easy to distract and have difficulty paying attention. They may appear to be daydreaming and have trouble understanding or following instructions. They may become bored easily, have difficulty with being still, and talk excessively. Impulsivity is another symptom. People with ADHD may act without thinking, display impatience by interrupting others during activities or while talking. Their behavior may show a lack of restraint or concern for the outcome or consequences.
ADD vs. ADHD
There is often much confusion over the difference, if any between attention deficit disorder (ADD) and ADHD. In the past ADD and ADHD were both conditions that affected a person’s behavior; however, people with ADHD were also affected by hyperactivity. Currently, ADD is no longer a diagnosis. Although the term is frequently used in reference to ADHD, it has been discarded by the medical industry in favor of ADHD and its three separate subtypes for diagnosis.
- National Institute of Mental Health ADHD: What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
- The Ohio State University – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Mayo Clinic: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children – Causes
- Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) of Arizona: ADHD
- Upstate Medical University Health Sciences Library: Attention Deficit/Hyperacticity Disorder – How Does it Occur?
- Healthy Children.org – Understanding ADHD
- CDC: Facts About ADHD
- HelpGuide: ADD/ADHD Tests and Diagnosis
- WebMD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Diagnosing ADHD
- University of Michigan: ADHD and Education
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Symptoms – Common Differences Between ADD and ADHD