What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that makes it hard to focus, pay attention, and sit still. It often causes problems at school and home.
ADHD symptoms can be mild or severe. Certain places (like school) can make them worse, but they happen in at least two places.
ADHD starts in childhood, often by age 4
ADHD sometimes goes away as children get older, but many people keep having problems in adulthood
Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and are very, very active (hyperactive)
Medicine often helps children with ADHD
What causes ADHD?
Doctors aren't sure why a child gets ADHD. It's probably caused by problems with how the child's brain developed before birth. Less often, problems after birth cause ADHD.
It's important to know that ADHD is a brain problem and not just a behavior problem.
Children have a higher chance of having ADHD if they:
Have relatives with ADHD (it runs in families)
Weighed less than 3 pounds at birth
Had a head injury or brain infection
Were exposed to lead, alcohol, tobacco, or cocaine before birth
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
ADHD in children
Signs of ADHD in children:
Trouble paying attention
Extremely physically active
Very impulsive (do things without thinking)
Compared to adults, all children have a little trouble paying attention and sitting still. However, children who have ADHD have a lot more trouble than other children. They have so much trouble that it's hard for them to do well in school.
Signs of trouble paying attention:
Not listening when being talked to
Not following instructions or finishing tasks
Avoiding tasks that take a lot of thinking
Trouble organizing tasks
Being easily distracted
Losing or forgetting things
Signs of hyperactivity:
Fidgeting with hands or feet or moving legs
Getting out of their seat at school or at home
Running or climbing more than usual
Trouble playing quietly
Talking more than usual
Signs of being impulsive:
Shouting out answers before a question is done being asked
Trouble waiting for a turn
Talking when it isn’t their turn or interrupting others
Most children with ADHD become less hyperactive as they get older and are better able to cope. Most will grow up to be creative and productive adults. However, untreated ADHD can raise the chance of alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or suicide.
ADHD in adults
Signs of ADHD in adults:
Difficulty completing tasks
Difficulty in relationships
How can doctors tell if my child has ADHD?
Doctors suspect ADHD based on your child's symptoms. There aren't any tests that say for sure whether or not your child has ADHD. However, doctors may check whether your child's symptoms are actually caused by another problem, such as:
How do doctors treat ADHD?
Yelling at or punishing your child doesn't help. Doctors will treat your child with:
Counseling on ways to improve behavior (behavioral therapy)
Doctors and counselors can suggest things to help you and your child deal with ADHD. Things that often help include:
Having a set routine at home and school
Giving small rewards for good behavior
Being very consistent with what behavior you expect
Working with teachers to have shorter assignments and lessons in school
A child with ADHD may need special help at school. In the United States, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide free and appropriate education to children with ADHD.
Medicines for ADHD are drugs such as Ritalin® and similar drugs that actually stimulate the brain. You might think your child is already too stimulated. However, these medicines stimulate the parts of the brain that help your child pay attention.
Stimulant drugs can have side effects like:
Not being able to sleep
Loss of appetite (children may eat so little they stop growing properly)
Fast heart rate and high blood pressure
To lessen the side effects, your doctor may suggest stopping medicine on weekends and during vacations from school.