Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a brain problem that can make it hard for kids to behave appropriately. It can also make time in the classroom challenging, interfere with schoolwork, and affect a child's social and emotional development. Brain imaging studies suggest that kids with ADHD have brains that work a little differently than the brains of kids without this condition. ADHD tends to run in families.

Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD symptoms usually begin before age 7, though they can start later. Symptoms can last through adolescence and sometimes continue into adulthood. Common symptoms include:

  • being unusually physically active (hyperactive). Kids with ADHD may be extra fidgety and have trouble sitting still and having "calm" bodies
  • impulsive behavior, such as difficulty with self-control and a tendency to do things without thinking
  • trouble paying attention and staying focused.

Some children with ADHD find it hard to maintain attention and focus but aren't particularly hyperactive.

Diagnosing ADHD

If you are concerned that your child may have a significant attention problem that is affecting his or her school and social success, talk with your pediatrician. Your child's doctor may treat the condition or refer you to a specialist.

Only a trained professional can determine if your child has ADHD. There are several psychological tests and rating scales that can help diagnose this condition.

If your child meets six of the following conditions, he or she may have the "inattentive" type of ADHD:

  • Shows poor attention to details.
  • Has a difficult time keeping attention on activities.
  • Does not listen well when addressed directly.
  • Has problems with follow-through when given instructions.
  • Has trouble with organizing tasks or projects.
  • Avoids taking on projects that would require a long period of intellectual concentration.
  • Loses supplies that are needed for activities.
  • Easily distracted by things going on around him or her.
  • Is forgetful.

If your child meets six of the following conditions, he or she may have the "hyperactive and impulsive" form of ADHD:

  • leaves seat when he/she is expected to remain seated
  • is fidgety
  • runs about at inappropriate times
  • has difficulty playing quietly
  • acts as if "driven by a motor"
  • talks excessively
  • blurts out answers before questions are complete
  • has difficulty taking turns
  • interrupts or intrudes on others.

Treating ADHD

Treating ADHD usually involves a three-pronged approach—behavioral strategies, educational support, and medication. Treatment is usually most successful when it includes all three elements, although studies suggest that medication may provide the greatest benefit.

An experienced ADHD professional should follow your child and provide long-term support. This should include monitoring medications and side effects in addition to following your child's school performance, social success, and sense of self-worth.

Although many children with ADHD experience related challenges into adolescence and even adulthood, with the right supports and treatment most children with ADHD do well over time.