What is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

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ADHD, one of the most common neurobehavioral childhood disorders, stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  A child with this diagnosis demonstrates significant difficulty with attention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity.  This disorder may impact a child’s ability to perform at school, complete everyday tasks, and interact with peers and adults. There are 3 subtypes of ADHD, and you can read more about them here.

According to the CDC, 8.4% of all children receive a diagnosis of ADHD sometime during their childhood.   ADHD symptoms typically appear between the ages of 3-6, though most children are not diagnosed until they are of school age.  There is no single test for ADHD and the diagnosis must be made by a licensed medical professional.  A child must display symptoms for longer than 6 months,  symptoms must occur before the age of 12, be of greater in severity than typical peers, and present in 2 or more settings.   These symptoms must also significantly impact social, school, or work functioning.

Characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Often fidgets with hands or feet, or often squirms in seat
  • Can’t stay seated
  • Has difficulty waiting turns in group situations
  • Often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed
  • Doesn’t listen well, has trouble following instructions especially complex questions
  • Is easily distracted
  • Shifts quickly from one activity to another
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Often talks excessively, often interrupts others
  • Often loses things necessary for activities at home or at school
  • Engages in activities without thinking of the consequences

How is Attention Deficit Disorder Diagnosed?

Because many children may have a few of these symptoms, its important that your child receive a thorough examination. There is no specific test to determine the presence of ADHD. Your doctor will also evaluate your child to make sure the symptoms are not caused by another disorder, such as Tourette Syndrome, a learning disability or depression.

What Causes ADD / ADHD?

When your child is diagnosed with any type of condition, its common to wonder what caused it. While researchers haven’t pinpointed any exact cause for ADHD, there appears to be a genetic link, since children with ADHD often have a close relative with the disorder.

There has not been any link proven between too much sugar and this condition. However, there appears to be a link between smoking during pregnancy and attention deficit disorder in a child. Other risk factors may include premature delivery, very low birth weight, and injuries to the brain at birth.

Treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Your child’s doctor will first take a complete medical history of your child. Usually vision and hearing are tested to rule out the possibility of other medical conditions. Some emotional situations, such as extreme stress, depression, and anxiety can look like ADHD, so your doctor will ask you questions to rule out these conditions as well.

To be considered for a diagnosis of ADHD:

  • A child must display behaviors from one of the three subtypes before age 7.
  • These behaviors must be more severe than in other kids the same age.
  • The behaviors must last for at least 6 months.
  • The behaviors must occur in and negatively affect at least two areas of a child’s life (such as school, home, day-care settings, or friendships).

ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. Your child’s physician will recommend a treatment plan that will successfully manage this condition.

Disorders that Sometimes Accompany ADHD

Learning Disabilities

Many children with ADHD approximately 20 to 30 percent also have a specific learning disability (LD). In preschool years, these disabilities include difficulty in understanding certain sounds or words and/or difficulty in expressing oneself in words.
In school age children, reading or spelling disabilities, writing disorders, and arithmetic disorders may appear. A type of reading disorder, dyslexia, is quite widespread. Reading disabilities affect up to 8 percent of elementary school children.

Tourette Syndrome

A very small proportion of people with ADHD have a neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome. People with Tourette Syndrome have various nervous tics and repetitive mannerisms, such as eye blinks, facial twitches, or grimacing. Others may clear their throats frequently, snort, sniff, or bark out words. These behaviors can be controlled with medication. While very few children have this syndrome, many of the cases of Tourette syndrome have associated ADHD. In such cases, both disorders often require treatment that may include medications.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

As many as one-third to one-half of all children with ADHD mostly boys have another condition, known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). These children are often defiant, stubborn, non-compliant, have outbursts of temper, or become belligerent. They argue with adults and refuse to obey.

Conduct Disorder

About 20 to 40 percent of ADHD children may eventually develop conduct disorder (CD), a more serious pattern of antisocial behavior. These children frequently lie or steal, fight with or bully others, and are at a real risk of getting into trouble at school or with the police. They violate the basic rights of other people, are aggressive toward people and/or animals, destroy property, break into peoples homes, commit thefts, carry or use weapons, or engage in vandalism. These children or teens are at greater risk for substance use experimentation, and later dependence and abuse. They need immediate help.

Anxiety and Depression

Some children with ADHD often have co-occurring anxiety or depression. If the anxiety or depression is recognized and treated, the child will be better able to handle the problems that accompany ADHD. Conversely, effective treatment of ADHD can have a positive impact on anxiety as the child is better able to master academic tasks.

Bipolar Disorder

There are no accurate statistics on how many children with ADHD also have bipolar disorder. Differentiating between ADHD and bipolar disorder in childhood can be difficult. In its classic form, bipolar disorder is characterized by mood cycling between periods of intense highs and lows. But in children, bipolar disorder often seems to be a rather chronic mood dysregulation with a mixture of elation, depression, and irritability. Furthermore, there are some symptoms that can be present both in ADHD and bipolar disorder, such as a high level of energy and a reduced need for sleep. Of the symptoms differentiating children with ADHD from those with bipolar disorder, elated mood and grandiosity of the bipolar child are distinguishing characteristics.

More Information on Attention Deficit Disorder

AD-IN Attention Deficit Information Network
475 Hillside Avenue
Needham, MA 02194
(617) 455-9895
(617) 444-5466 (Fax)
E-mail adin@gis.net

C.H.ADD Canada
1376 Bank Street, Suite 214
Ottawa, ON K1H 1B3 CANADA
(613) 731-1209
(613) 257-1563 (Fax)

499 NW 70th Avenue, Suite 101
Plantation, FL 33317
(800) 233-4050
(954) 587-3700
(954) 587-4599 (Fax)
E-mail national@chadd.org

The ADHD Challenge
P.O. Box 2277
W. Peabody, MA 01960-7277
(800) 233-2322
(508) 535-3276 (Fax)
E-mail Koplow@grs.net

National ADD
P.O. Box 972
Mentor, OH 44061
(800) 487-2282 (Voice Mail)
(440) 350-9595
(440) 350-0223 (Fax)
E-mail NATLADDA@aol.com