What is ADHD/ADD?
Almost all children have times when their attention or behavior veers out of control. However, for some children, these types of behaviors are more than an occasional problem. Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD) have behavior problems that are so frequent and severe that they interfere with their ability to function adequately on a daily basis. These children can face excessive criticism, failure, and disappointment while their parents struggle with what to do.
ADHD youngsters are easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. They may be impulsive and seem to act without thinking, touching objects that are off limits or running into the street to chase a ball without apparent regard for their own safety. In calm moments, they might know better. They may not cope well with frustration and can have dramatic mood swings. At school they may be fidgety and brimming with energy, finding it difficult to sit still, jumping out of their seat constantly, as if unable to control their perpetual motion. They often have difficulty with sequencing and organizational skills. Others who cannot concentrate may sit quietly, daydreaming and appearing "spaced out." Because of their behavior they may be rejected by other children and disliked by teachers; in the process, their report cards may be disappointing and their self-esteem may suffer, despite the fact that they are often as bright as their peers.
Now, most experts are using the term attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a diagnosis for children whose behavior tends to be characteristically impulsive, inattentive, or a combination of both. Since all children have these traits some of the time, the diagnosis usually requires that the symptoms be present for at least six months by age seven, be evident in various situations, and be more intense than usually seen in other children of the same age and gender.
More than six-percent of school-age children have ADHD. Boys outnumber girls. Researchers are examining multiple causes of the disorder, including heredity, brain chemistry, and social factors. Some researchers believe that children with ADHD have abnormally low levels and imbalances of certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals that convey messages between brain cells. Recent studies suggest that various parts of the brain may be functioning differently than in the majority of children.
Many ADHD children also have reading disabilities and other specific learning problems, which further interfere with their success at school. Children with difficulties with language and memory have problems with schoolwork that are compounded when ADHD characteristics like distractibility and impulsiveness are present. A child with ADHD can affect his family in many ways. Normal family routines may be hard to maintain because the child's behavior has been so disorganized and unpredictable, often for a number of years. Children with ADHD frequently become "overexcited" and out of control in stimulating environments. They may also exhibit angry and resistant behavior toward their parents or have low self-esteem. This may be the result of the child's exasperation at failing to meet their parents' expectations or to manage day-to-day tasks due to ADHD symptoms.
Your pediatrician will determine whether your child has ADHD/ADD using the Vanderbilt Questionnaires. These diagnosis guidelines are specifically for children 4 to 18 years of age. There is no single test for ADHD. The process requires several steps and involves gathering a lot of information from multiple sources. You, your child, your child's school, and other caregivers should be involved in assessing your child's behavior. Your pediatrician will discuss both non-medical and medical treatment of ADD/ADHD.