ADHD in Children: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorder in children. Inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity are the symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD in children may lead to difficulty focusing such as sitting still, following instructions, and completing home or school work.

Symptoms

The major principles of ADHD include inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour. According to Mayo Clinic, the ADHD symptoms begin before 12 years of age and are clear in some children as early as 3 years of age.

There are three major types of ADHD in children over the age of 3 (1):

  • inattentive type
  • hyperactive-impulsive type
  • combination type

Inattentive/distractible type: This type is characterised predominately by inattention and distraction without hyperactivity.

Impulsive/hyperactive type: This type is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviour without inattention and distraction, the least common type of ADHD.

Combined type: This type is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviour, and by inattention and distraction. This is, however, the most common and mix type of ADHD.

ADHD appears more frequently in males than in females, and behaviours in boys and girls can be different. For instance, boys may be more hyperactive than girls.

A child who shows a symptom of inattention type may frequently:

  • cannot pay close attention
  • mistakes in schoolwork
  • have trouble staying focused
  • appear not to listen
  • have difficulty following instructions
  • cannot finish schoolwork
  • have trouble organizing tasks
  • avoid tasks that require mental effort
  • easily distracted
  • forget to do daily activities

A child who shows a symptom of hyperactive and impulsive type may frequently:

  • fidgety or twist the body from side to side in the seat
  • have difficulty staying seated still and calm
  • talking and making noise constantly
  • run around from one place to place
  • climb in places when it’s not appropriate
  • have trouble playing or doing an activity quietly
  • call out answers, interrupting the questioner
  • have difficulty waiting for his/her turn

Although your child might have symptoms that sound like ADHD, it may be something else. That’s why you need a doctor to find that out.

Diagnosis

There is no clear or conclusive test for ADHD in children. Instead, diagnosis is a procedure that takes many steps and includes collecting a lot of data from various sources. Your child’s school and other caregivers should be able to determine the behaviour of your child. The doctor will also ask what signs your child has, how long these symptoms have begun, and how the behaviour is impacting your child and the rest of your family.

Usually, the doctors diagnose ADHD in children who have had six or more serious signs of inattention or hyperactivity daily for over 6 months. The doctor will consider how the attitude of the child correlates with other normal children of the same age. However, your doctor can first try to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may:

  • confirm the existence of symptoms
  • take blood from the child and run a test
  • ask for psychological testing
  • ask about health history of the child

ADHD is very difficult to detect in children younger than 7 years of age. That’s because many of the preschool kids have some signs has seen in different cases.

Treatment

A variety of treatment options are available such as education programs, psychological intervention, and drug treatment. Once the child has been diagnosed, the primary aim is to control the symptom of ADHD and encourage healthy behaviour. Learn as much about the options as you can and speak to your child’s doctor to make the right decision for your child.

Studies suggest that long-term care with a combination of drugs and behavioural therapy is much better than only treatment with drugs. Those children who were treated with both drugs and therapy also had improved social skills (2).

There are recently 2 types of medications used to treat ADHD, such as stimulants and non-stimulants. Drugs for ADHD are available in short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting forms. Stimulant is however a highly successful treatment for ADHD in childhood.

These medications can help children to concentrate and ignore distractions. It can take a while for a doctor to find the right drug, dose, and schedule for anyone with ADHD. ADHD medications sometimes have adverse effects, but these appear to arise early in treatment. Usually, the side effects are mild and do not last long.

Your doctor may recommend behavioural therapy before starting any medication. Behavioural therapy can, however, encourage your child to replace inappropriate behaviours with new behaviours. Some of these therapies include:

  • behavior therapy
  • social skills training
  • parenting skills training
  • psychotherapy
  • family therapy
  • meal planning

Some children might have adverse effects on a drug, making a specific treatment inappropriate. If a child with ADHD often has depression or anxiety, it may be better to combine medication and behavioural therapy. It’s important to consult with your doctor to find the best option for your kid.

Related: Practicable natural remedies for people with ADHD

Risk Factors

However, it’s not obvious what causes ADHD. But researchers agree that there could be several variables that play a role in determining if someone may develop ADHD. Factors such as genetic, the environment, and issues with the progress of the central nervous system can be involved in the development of ADHD.

Risk factors for ADHD include:

  • The mother smoked, drank alcohol, or used drugs in pregnancy.
  • Parent or sibling has ADHD or other mental health conditions
  • The child was exposed to environmental pollutants

The health and habits of a mother during pregnancy can play a role in the development of ADHD. Inadequate nutrition and infection during pregnancy can also raise the risk of ADHD. However, ADHD is largely an inherited disorder. The inherited contribution to ADHD is calculated to be over 70% (3).

Related: Recognizing ADHD in adults: diagnosis and treatment

The Bottom Line

ADHD is very common brain condition in children. If you are concerned that your child might show signs of ADHD, share it with your doctor. While there is no cure for ADHD, however, medication, behavioural therapy, and changes in and lifestyle will help ease your child’s symptoms and increase the chance of success.

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