When it comes to the health and happiness of our children, we all want to do what is best. Understanding this condition can help you and your child deal with a possible diagnosis of ADHD.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It describes a group of three symptoms that are first noticed in childhood. These symptoms are hyperactivity (an increase in activity), impulsivity (poor decision-making), and inattention (trouble paying attention). Symptoms must be severe enough to cause problems in a child’s daily life. Issues may include poor grades at school, difficulties with friends or family members, and possibly other emotional problems. It is one of the most common chronic health conditions affecting school-aged children.
Between five to 12 per cent of school-aged children will be diagnosed with ADHD. As many as one in ten kids in any classroom may be affected. Boys are two and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. It is considered a lifelong condition. Between 60 and 80 per cent of teenagers diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have symptoms into adulthood.
No single cause of ADHD has been found. Research supports a biologic basis for ADHD. This is based on studies that have looked at images of the brain. Structural and functional differences appear in the brains of people who have ADHD, compared to those who do not. For instance, some studies suggest difficulties in the area of the brain that controls planning, memory and other abstract reasoning. These differences in the brain may explain why, for example, a child has difficulty remembering to do homework or adapting to a change in plans.
We do not understand why differences exist in the brains of kids affected by ADHD. However, there is a known connection with some environmental factors. Risks include exposure to cigarette smoking and alcohol before birth, as well as early exposure to lead. Low birth weight and being born early also increase a child’s risk of developing ADHD. Experts also believe that ADHD is inherited. A child is more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD if a parent or a sibling has it.
Other factors often come up in a discussion of ADHD. Some people think that food additives, such as dyes and refined sugar, can cause ADHD. Others believe that children are at higher risk if they lack certain elements or vitamins, such as iron or zinc. For most kids, evidence does not support a link between sugar intake and hyperactivity. Other factors in the diet may have a small effect. However, this is usually not significant and does not account for most ADHD cases. The role of diet in ADHD is controversial. Before you decide to eliminate, restrict or increase certain foods, have a frank discussion with your doctor.
Just as there is no single cause of ADHD, there is no single test to diagnose ADHD. The condition is divided into three categories.
Children in this category may be very fidgety, tapping and squirming all the time. They may climb and run around a lot, and have difficulty remaining seated when asked to do so by a teacher. Playing quietly or waiting turns may be difficult. These children may often blurt out answers in class. Parents may notice some of these behaviours as early as age four, when visitors come by or when the child plays with siblings or friends.
Often, children with this type of ADHD are called dreamers. They seem not to listen or even hear when asked questions. They have difficulty organizing tasks or activities. They often misplace or lose objects needed for tasks like pencils or erasers. They cannot seem to pay attention to detail and often make careless mistakes. Usually signs of inattention are noticed by age eight or nine.
These kids show a combination of behaviours including excessive activity, poor decision-making, and being unable to pay close attention.
All children show some of these behaviours, at least some of the time. The difference in a child who has actual ADHD, is the inability to function. A true diagnosis of ADHD requires symptoms to be severe and seen in more than one setting. A child with ADHD will likely be doing poorly in school, have difficulty forming friendships, and even feel sad or anxious. The behaviours will be noticed in more than one place, like home and school, or school and after school activities.
Just because your child shows some behaviours of ADHD does not mean your child automatically has it. Other possible reasons exist for these symptoms. Problems with hearing, poor sleep, family stressors, or a seizure disorder can all affect behaviour. Autism, learning disabilities, or even anxiety can also look like ADHD. These conditions are treated in a very different way from ADHD. Accurate diagnosis is critical. If problems at school or with behaviour make you suspect your child might have ADHD, talk to your doctor. Your family doctor or pediatrician can do a complete evaluation and help figure out what is really going on. This will include questionnaires for you and your child’s teacher to fill out.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD after a thorough evaluation, treatment is key. Many risks are associated with untreated ADHD. It is common for kids with ADHD to feel depressed or anxious. These children have more intentional and non-intentional injury. They are also at higher risk of using drugs and abusing alcohol. ADHD can lead to poor school performance, and difficulty forming relationships or following rules. Proper treatment can help ensure your child feels successful in these areas, and in turn feels more confident.
Treatment options generally fall into three categories – stimulant medication, behavioural therapy, and complementary and alternative therapies.
Having a child with ADHD can be challenging. Families can benefit from help and support. The Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance at caddra.ca is a reliable source of information.