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.
ADHD has become one of the most common mental disorders among children, affecting approximately 8.5% of ages 8 to 15, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Behavior Patterns to Look For
The key behavior patterns of ADHD usually appear when the child is between 3 and 6 years old. These behavior patterns, which must continue for at least six months and be more pronounced than for other kids the same age, 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.
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.
Various medications may be prescribed to help control the symptoms of ADHD. The most common and effective drugs are stimulants. Some side effects include loss of appetite, a slower growth rate, and weight loss. Because of side effects and the fact that not every medication and dosage work for every child, it's key that physicians and parents keep a close eye on children taking medication.
While medication can do a good job of controlling symptoms, many professionals believe therapy is required to address other conditions involved in the disorder. Possible 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. Parents can also help by rewarding the behaviors they want to encourage, helping the child see her strengths and using stress-management tactics to remain calm.
Edited by Jan Widerman, DO
AOA Board-Certified Pediatrician