You have come to the right place to learn more about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD—or “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. ADHD is a “multifactorial” disorder, meaning it is influenced by the interaction of genetic and environmental factors on the structure and function of the brain.
ADHD may partly be caused by an imbalance of the chemical messengers responsible for memory, attention, and motor control (movement). Certain areas of the brain have also been shown to be less active, or underdeveloped, in people who have ADHD.
Children with parents or older siblings who have ADHD have a higher risk for the disorder.
Children born prematurely, or to mothers who had difficult pregnancies, have a higher risk for ADHD.
Fetal exposure to drugs or alcohol, and childhood exposure to lead, secondary cigarette smoke, or pesticides may increase the risk for developing ADHD.
ADHD is actually one of the most common mental health issues affecting children and adolescents.
of American children and teens—that’s nearly 1 in 10—have been diagnosed with ADHD, including approximately:
Boys are 3 times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, but these gender differences become less pronounced by adulthood.
While ADHD is a common and treatable medical disorder, only a doctor or other healthcare provider can diagnose ADHD; in fact, ADHD may be just the “tip of the iceberg,” with other mental health issues occurring underneath.
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There are often signs or symptoms that your child has ADHD. But it’s important to know that not all children with ADHD have the same symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD typically surface at school, at home, and/or in social situations. However, for a diagnosis of ADHD to be made, symptoms must be present in 2 or more settings. The symptoms below are not a diagnostic tool, but some signs that may prompt a discussion with your child’s doctor.
There are 3 distinct types of ADHD in children and teens
Difficulty keeping on task and following through: Your child may start schoolwork or chores, but quickly loses focus or gets easily sidetracked.
Difficulty paying attention: Do you hear from teachers that your child has difficulty paying attention to lessons? Perhaps your child cannot appropriately follow instructions or stay organized in their schoolwork.
Appearing not to listen when spoken to: It could be that when you speak directly to your child, you notice that his/her mind seems to be elsewhere, even in the absence of obvious distractions.
Often forgetful or easily distractible: Does your child constantly lose school materials—or if older, misplace glasses, keys, wallet, or cell phone?
Fidgets or has difficulty remaining seated: Do teachers complain that your child leaves his/her seat or moves around too much in class? Does it seem like your child is unable to be still for an extended period of time?
Always “on the go”: Maybe your child cannot seem to play quietly or participate in social activities.
Blurts out answers to questions or has difficulty taking turns: This can be as obvious as completing other people’s sentences or not being able to wait in line.
Does your child show symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive behaviors?
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it’s important to tell your child’s doctor about them and how they are impacting your child’s overall development—in school, at home, and socially with peers.
If you suspect your child has ADHD, the best course of action is to make an appointment with your child’s healthcare provider to further discuss.
There is no one “test” for ADHD. Your doctor will generally diagnose the disorder after your child has had issues with hyperactivity or inattention for over 6 months and in more than 1 setting (eg, both at home and at school).
The process of diagnosis starts with an open and honest discussion with your child’s doctor to talk about your concerns and/or observations. This attached Discussion Guide may help.Download Discussion Guide
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Parents often wonder if their child’s behavior is part of a normal developmental stage, or if it could be ADHD:
At any age, the key to diagnosing ADHD is determining the impact of symptoms on your child’s life. A detailed history, along with your doctor’s observations and a physical exam, are important when diagnosing ADHD. Your doctor may also collect information from others involved in your child’s care, such as parents, teachers, and coaches.
When your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, your first thought as a parent is, “How can I help”? The good news is that there are a variety of treatment approaches to help tackle ADHD behaviors and help your child to succeed!
ADHD treatment is considered “multimodal” and should be tailored to each child’s needs and circumstances. The initial treatment for ADHD is often focused on behavioral and school support.
Behavioral therapy for children and parents includes counseling and parent training.
School accommodations may take the form of 504 plans, individualized education plans (IEPs), tutoring, and/or special education programs. There are also simple strategies that your teacher may implement to help your child succeed in the classroom.
Behavioral and educational approaches alone may not be enough to manage your child’s ADHD. Medications may play an important role, and are used to treat core symptoms of the disorder, including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
There are 2 main categories of ADHD medications: controlled medications/stimulants and noncontrolled medications/nonstimulants. One or the other may be used to help treat your child’s symptoms. Combination therapy with both categories of medications may also be considered in children who respond only partially to one treatment.
Controlled medications/stimulants are products containing the molecules methylphenidate or amphetamine.
Noncontrolled medications/nonstimulants include certain classes of medications also used in other settings to lower blood pressure or adjust the chemicals in your brain (antidepressants).
Learn more about medication treatments for ADHD with this chart from the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website.