Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a common childhood disorder that is estimated to affect roughly 5 to 10% of American children. It often presents as symptoms like inattentiveness, easy distractibility, lack of focus on things that matter, difficulty organizing, and may include fidgeting, excessive talking, impulsivity, hyperactivity, difficulty waiting for their turn, and struggling to follow directions.
What Are The Common Symptoms Of ADHD?
All parents worry a little bit about their child’s health and well-being, and some early signs (before age 6 years) of ADHD might be hard to accurately assess without the intervention of a trained professional.
Many parents with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD mention their child’s inability to stay focused on a particular task, as well as constantly fidgeting or struggling to stay still. As they grow older and academic demands increase, children with ADHD often do things like forgetting to bring home or hand in their homework, or only writing down part of their assignments. This might occur in conjunction with memory problems as well as generally impulsive behavior and lack of organization.
ADHD Symptoms That Indicate A Need For Professional Evaluation
If your child is displaying many of the following behaviors, or symptoms, you should strongly consider having them evaluated by a professional.
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- A frequent inability to stay focused
- Difficulty waiting for their turn
- Constantly fidgeting
- Struggling to play quietly
- Displaying frequent emotional turmoil
How Is ADHD Diagnosed?
It’s important to note that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a genetic, brain-based condition, and not simply a deficit of executive function (the ability to organize, plan, remember, attend, execute ideas). Accurate diagnosis of ADHD calls for careful evaluation of symptoms to determine ADHD Primarily Inattentive, ADHD Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive or ADHD Combined Type, which includes symptoms of both.
Primarily Inattentive ADHD Symptoms include:
- Frequently failing to pay close attention to details or making careless mistakes in schoolwork or similar activities.
- Struggling to maintain attention while performing tasks or play activities.
- Not listening or paying attention when spoken to directly
- Struggling to follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or other duties.
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities or maintaining a sequence.
- Avoiding things that they dislike, or being reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.
- Frequently losing material or tools that are necessary for tasks or activities.
- Being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
- Frequently forgetful about needing to complete daily activities
Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive Type Symptoms
Primary Hyperactivity-Impulsiveness often occurs in conjunction with inattention, and has additional criteria used to confirm the diagnosis. These include the following:.
- Frequently fidgeting with objects or tapping their hands or feet when seated.
- Often leaving their seat in situations when they are expected to remain seated.
- Frequently running or climbing in situations where it is considered inappropriate.
- Being unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
- Acting as if “Driven by a Motor” when they should otherwise be controlled.
- Talking excessively.
- Frequently blurting out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Difficulty waiting for their turn.
- Frequently interrupting or intruding on others, or butting into conversations, activities, or games without asking for or receiving permission.
Helping Children With ADHD
There are a few lifestyle modifications, and habits to adopt that can help children with ADHD or Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsivity to deal with their symptoms. This includes the following:
Diet & Nutrition
While poor diet and eating habits are not a direct cause of ADHD in children, there is a growing body of research that shows how good diet and nutrition can have a positive impact on cognition, attention, and sleep, as well as mood. This includes studies that demonstrated how individuals with ADHD do better after eating a protein-rich breakfast and lunch, as well as avoiding unprocessed foods. There is no evidence that natural supplements or vitamins significantly alter ADHD symptoms.
Lack of sleep can mimic signs of ADHD and can make symptoms of ADHD worse. As much as is possible, parents should try to maximize their child’s sleep time, and keep regular bedtime routines.
A large body of research has found that exercise provides a wide range of benefits for mental health and cognition. It has also been shown to activate or increase activity in the parts of the brain’s “Executive Functions.” These are the parts of the brain that are responsible for things like sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. Routine exercise ultimately helps children to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed for learning.
Routine exercise also helps the brain to release several important neurochemicals. This includes endorphins that regulate mood, pleasure, and pain. Exercise also helps to elevate the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels that help with focus as well as attention.
How Is ADHD In Children Treated?
There are a few different approaches that your physician might recommend for treating your child’s ADHD or impulsivity issues. The modality that is most effective for your child may vary depending on their specific behaviors as well as how they respond to different treatments. If your child isn’t responding well to one modality, your physician might recommend modifications, or consider switching to an alternative treatment strategy.
Stimulant Treatment for ADHD
The mainstay of treatment for ADHD is stimulant therapy, which was first introduced in the middle of the 20th century. This is provided by a pill, capsul, liquid, or patch that delivers the medication to the body. The goal of therapy is to improve functioning, and to reduce symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity, which it accomplishes in most cases. There can be side effects to therapy, which you can discuss with your practitioner. Ultimately, stimulant therapy seeks to maximize improvement with minimal side effects.
Non-Stimulant Treatment For ADHD
Some non-stimulant medications can sometimes serve as a viable alternative for children who generally can’t tolerate or don’t experience the desired effect from prescription stimulant medications.
These medications are designed to target neurotransmitters, without specifically affecting dopamine release in the brain the way stimulant medications do. Many of the parents and children who prefer non-stimulant ADHD medications note that they don’t carry the same side-effect risks as stimulants, though they tend to be less effective, and require daily dosing.
Therapy For ADHD In Children
While prescription ADHD medications operate on a neurological level to help regulate key functions and chemistry in the brain, they are only one part of an effective ADHD treatment strategy. Other components like behavior therapy may also be needed to address specific problematic behaviors your child may be displaying.
This might include things like structuring time at home, establishing predictable routines, as well as increasing the positive attention your child receives. Behavior therapy modalities operate on a simple premise, that parents and other key adult figures in a child’s life help to set clear expectations for a child’s behavior. Routine positive and negative reinforcement at consistent times helps a child with ADHD to gradually modify their own behavior over time.
Accommodations and Coaching
Students who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are entitled to 504 accommodations at school, which can assist with their learning and behavior. Some examples of accommodations include 50% extra time for tests and assignments, preferential seating, more frequent breaks, note taking help, communication with parents about daily assignments, and others.
Individual ADHD coaching can help children with planning, organization, and with the daily chore of getting their homework done. Talk to your practitioner about a referral for this service, or about how to arrange for school accommodations.
The diagnosis of ADHD may be accompanied by other comorbidities such as learning disorders (for example with reading, writing or math), mood issues (such as depression or anxiety), sleep disorders, or others. You should discuss your child’s specific needs for treatment with your practitioner.