Understanding Childhood ADHD
“My child just can’t ever sit still for more than two seconds!”
“I tell him to take out the trash, and I find him a few minutes later doing something else.”
“She is easily distracted by pretty much anything, and her teacher reports it takes her twice as long to do an assignment as it does her classmates.”
Do these types of frustrations sound familiar? Perhaps you remember them yourself when you were younger and you are now noticing the same problems in your children? The next question that usually comes to mind is: Is this ADHD?
So what, exactly, is ADHD? ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are problems characterized by an inability to concentrate and complete tasks, and/or an inability to sit still without giving in to the impulse to be moving.
Children with these disorders are often described as
- Easily distractible
- Unable to focus
- Bouncing off the walls
Diagnosing ADHD in Children
Some symptoms of ADHD are common in most children, especially children younger than age five, so it doesn’t necessarily mean the child has ADHD. A careful evaluation by your child’s doctor will include a review of questionnaires related to ADHD and your child’s past medical history. There are other disorders with manifestations similar to ADHD, so it is important to establish the correct diagnosis before beginning any treatment.
Treatment for ADHD
When the diagnosis of ADHD has been established, the next course of action is to decide what treatment, if any, is needed. The option to begin treatment usually depends on the effect that ADHD has on the child’s life—how they are relating to their peers and family members, and how they are doing in the classroom.
Not all children with ADHD need to be on medication treatment. Sometimes, behavioral modification and coping techniques work well for addressing the issues these children struggle with. In general, though, this approach does not work as well on younger children.
What to Know About ADHD Medication
The mainstay of treatment has been with medication (e.g. Ritalin). Although these medications are safe for children and work well for the treatment of ADHD symptoms, there are some side effects that can be significant. A loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping are commonly encountered problems of children on ADHD medications.
I always remind parents what the medications are designed to do, and what they should not do. At the appropriate dose for the child, one should not be able to tell the child is on medication, aside from correcting the behaviors that were of concern in the first place. Not all children have significant problems with side effects and they gain a huge benefit from their treatment. The bottom line is this – you and your child’s doctor need to discuss all the options and the risks of side effects that your child may experience before deciding that starting a medication is the right choice.
If you are concerned that your child may have ADHD, I recommend setting up a time to discuss this further with your child’s health care provider. But be prepared for a somewhat lengthy evaluation process, because we want to be sure of the diagnosis before we proceed with any treatment options.