What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a common childhood illness. People who are affected can have trouble with paying attention, sitting still and controlling their impulses. There are three types of ADHD. The most common type of ADHD is when people have difficulties with both attention and hyperactivity. This is called ADHD combined type. Some people only have difficulty with attention and organization. This is ADHD inattentive subtype or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Other people have only the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. This is ADHD hyperactive subtype.

It is a health condition involving biologically active substances in the brain. Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand others' actions, and control our impulses.

Many children and adults are easily distracted at times or have trouble finishing tasks. If you suspect that your child has ADHD, it is important to have your child evaluated by his or her doctor. In order for your child’s doctor to diagnose your child with ADHD, the behaviors must appear before age 12 and continue for at least six months. The symptoms must also create impairment in at least two areas of the child's life-in the classroom, on the playground, at home, in the community, or in social settings. Many children have difficulties with their attention but attention problems are not always cue to ADHD. For example, stressful life events and other childhood conditions such as problems with schoolwork caused by a learning disability or anxiety and depression can interfere with attention.

How common is ADHD?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD occurs in an estimated 3 to 5 percent of preschool and school-age children. Therefore, in a class of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one student will have this condition. ADHD begins in childhood, but it often lasts into adulthood. Several studies done in recent years estimate that 30 to 65 percent of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms into adolescence and adulthood.

What causes ADHD?

No one knows exactly what causes ADHD. There appears to be a combination of causes, including genetics and environmental influences Several different factors could increase a child's likelihood of having the disorder, such as gender, family history, prenatal risks, environmental toxins and physical differences in the brain seem to be involved.

Common signs and symptoms of ADHD

A child with ADHD often shows some of the following:

Difficulties with attention:

  • trouble paying attention
  • inattention to details and makes careless mistakes
  • easily distracted
  • losing things such as school supplies
  • forgetting to turn in homework
  • trouble finishing class work and homework
  • trouble listening
  • trouble following multiple adult commands
  • difficulty playing quietly

Hyperactivity:

  • fidgeting
  • inability to stay seated
  • running or climbing excessively
  • always "on the go"

Impulsivity:

  • talks too much and interrupts or intrudes on others
  • blurts out answers
  • impatience
What are the types of treatment for ADHD?

The good news is that effective treatment is available. The first step is to have a careful and thorough evaluation with your child’s primary care doctor or with a qualified mental health professional. With the right treatment, children with ADHD can improve their ability to pay attention and control their behavior. The right care can help them grow, learn, and feel better about themselves.

Medications: Most children with ADHD benefit from taking medication. Medications do not cure ADHD. Medications can help a child control his or her symptoms on the day that the pills are taken.

Medications for ADHD are well established and effective. There are two main types: stimulant and non-stimulant medications. Stimulants include methylphenidate, and amphetamine salts. Non-stimulant medications include atomoxetine, guanfacine and clonidine. For more information about the medications used to treat ADHD, please see the Parent Med Guide. Before medication treatment begins, your child's doctor should discuss the benefits and the possible side effects of these medications. Your child’s doctor should continue to monitor your child for improvement and side effects. A majority of children who benefit from medication for ADHD will continue to benefit from it as teenagers. In fact, many adults with ADHD also find that medication can be helpful.

Therapy and Other Support: A psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional can help a child with ADHD. The psychotherapy should focus on helping parents provide structure and positive reinforcement for good behavior. In addition, individual therapy can help children gain a better self-image. The therapist can help the child identify his or her strengths and build on them. Therapy can also help a child with ADHD cope with daily problems, pay better attention, and learn to control aggression.

A therapist may use one or more of the following approaches: Behavior therapy, Talk therapy, Social skills training, Family support groups.

When is it okay to stop taking ADHD medication?

Sometimes children and parents wonder when children can stop taking ADHD medication. If you have questions about stopping ADHD medication, consult your doctor. Many children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have problems with one or more symptoms of this condition later in life. In these cases, ADHD medication can be taken into adulthood to help control their symptoms.

For others, the symptoms of ADHD lessen over time as they begin to "outgrow" ADHD or learn to compensate for their behavioral symptoms. The symptom most apt to lessen over time is hyperactivity.

Some signs that your child may be ready to reduce or stop ADHD medication are:

  • Your child has been symptom-free for more than a year while on medication,
  • Your child is doing better and better, but the dosage has stayed the same,
  • Your child's behavior is appropriate despite missing a dose or two,
  • Or your child has developed a newfound ability to concentrate.

The choice to stop taking ADHD medication should be discussed with the prescribing doctor, teachers, family members, and your child. You may find that your child needs extra support from teachers and family members to reinforce good behavior once the medication is stopped.

What are the consequences of Untreated ADHD?

Without treatment, a child with ADHD may fall behind in school and have trouble with friendships. Family life may also suffer. Untreated ADHD can increase strain between parents and children. Parents often blame themselves when they can't communicate with their child. The sense of losing control can be very frustrating. Teenagers with ADHD are at increased risk for driving accidents. Adults with untreated ADHD have higher rates of divorce and job loss, compared with the general population. Luckily, safe and effective treatments are available which can help children and adults help control the symptoms of ADHD and prevent the unwanted consequences.