Have you noticed that your child has trouble staying focused on a specific task? Whether they are finishing math homework, or just playing catch, they seem to be unable to concentrate for extended periods of time. If this has occurred over the course of at least six months, your child could have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.
Once referred to as hyperkinesia or minimal brain dysfunction, ADHD has become one of the most common mental disorders among children, affecting approximately 4% to 12% of children worldwide according to the National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH). In order to be diagnosed with the disorder, the behaviors must appear before the age of 7 and continue for at least six months.. At least two areas in the child’s life must also be affected by the behavior; for example, family and school or social life and family. It also must affect the child’s life performance.
Osteopathic physicians (DOs) believe ADHD is a diagnosis applied to children who consistently display certain characteristic behaviors over a period of time. It has a strong genetic basis and alteration in the brain chemicals.
If parents suspect their child may have ADHD, there are several professionals to turn to for diagnosis – pediatricians, family physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists or neurologists. While they may all diagnose the disorder, some of them can prescribe medications, while others can provide counseling.
Different medications are prescribed to help treat ADHD. The most common and effective drugs are stimulants. These have been used since 1937. According to the NIMH, the behaviors improve for nine out of 10 children when using medication. DOs recommend that your physician adjust the dosage of the medication if it is not working for your child. Your physician can also prescribe other medications if the initial treatment does not work.
When placing children on any medication, there is always concern; however, weighing the potential side effects against the benefits can help families decide whether or not to choose medication as a method for treating ADHD. With extensive research, we know that 70-80% of children will have this disorder for life. We also know that medication is the most effective treatment that we have. We also know that people with untreated ADHD have higher rates of substance abuse, accidents, auto accidents, divorce, and problems in the work force. They also have higher rates of incarceration. Some side effects while on these drugs include loss of appetite, a slower growth rate, and weight loss. These should be monitored by your physician.
While medication can do a good job of controlling symptoms, many professionals believe that therapy is required to address other conditions involved in the disorder. Other therapies include psychotherapy, support groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and social skills training which can help people with ADHD learn new behaviors or accept themselves despite the disorder.
Behavior Patterns to Look For
As ADHD does not have distinct physical symptoms, it is necessary to recognize specific behavior patterns. These patterns include:
Inattention - children who have a difficult time finishing projects that require concentration for an extended length of time.
Hyperactivity - children who are consistently moving throughout a room or squirm in their seats.
Impulsivity - children are unable to think before they act. They are incapable if controlling their immediate reactions and may find it difficult to wait for their turn while playing games.
No matter which treatment your physician suggests, a child with ADHD can still learn to live a normal life.
Edited by Jan Widerman, DO
AOA Board-Certified Pediatrician