Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects six to seven percent of all children according to the criteria set out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition). This is a disorder that will continue into adulthood for at least a third of the children diagnosed. It is a neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorder characterized by age-inappropriate problems with acting impulsively and hyperactivity or attention deficits.
In the majority of cases, the cause of ADHD is unknown. Studies done with twins indicate that genetics are at least partially to blame. A lesser factor is likely environment. Mothers who drink alcohol or smoke during pregnancy can cause ADHD-like symptoms in their child. Premature birth, early adversity, and low birth weight also increase the risk of the child having ADHD.
Others suggest that society may have a role in the prevalence of ADHD. Some cases can be explained by high expectations of school children. A study found that younger children in a specific grade were more likely to be diagnosed than older. This is probably due to these children being considered developmentally behind.
How to Treat ADHD
ADHD is usually treated with counseling and medication. These may be used in conjunction or separately. Medication has been shown to improve the symptoms in 80% of those who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Those with ADHD are typically given stimulants. The two most common medications for ADHD are Ritalin and Adderall.
Ritalin, or methylphenidate as it is generically known, helps the ADHD patient concentration. Though it was prescribed heavily in the 1990s, it has recently fallen out of favor due to its abuse. Ritalin has similarities to cocaine and can lead to addiction. Adderall is a combination of amphetamines. It was introduced as a safer alternative to Ritalin. Yet, it is abused by some and can lead to dependence.
For more mild ADHD symptoms, behavioral therapies are recommended. These therapies include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Social skills training
- Psychoeducational input
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- School-based interventions
- Parent management training
It is always best to check with a qualified health professional to determine which treatment is best for a child.
Is ADHD Over-Diagnosed?
With ADHD being the most common behavioral health issue among children, it naturally follows that there would be controversy regarding its over-diagnosis. Since the 1970s, parents, policymakers, teachers, clinicians, and the media have attacked how ADHD is diagnosed and treated. Healthcare providers generally consider ADHD a legitimate disorder, but the scientific community continues to debate aspects of treatment and diagnosis.
The opponents of the wide-ranging diagnosis of ADHD argue that it is just on the far range of normal behavior. Some say, “They’re children: they’re supposed to be hyperactive and inattentive!” Some anti-pharmaceutical activists argue ADHD diagnoses are marketed toward parents and healthcare providers. The pharmaceutical industry, they argue, does this to make more money selling medications.
There is no clear-cut answer to this debate. There are very knowledgeable and scientific arguments on each side of the diagnosis debate.
When Should a Child Be Tested for ADHD?
The symptoms associated with ADHD include:
- Missing details
- Distracting easily
- Forgetting things
- Difficulty focusing on one task
- Fidgeting and squirming in one’s seat
- Nonstop talking
- Constant motion
- Very impatient
- Blurting out inappropriate comments
The above are just some of the symptoms. There are many others. But, as one can see, there is a very broad range of behaviors associated with ADHD diagnoses. Usually, a child should be tested for ADHD if the child’s school strongly encourages it for a specific child. They usually encourage testing when a child is being particularly disruptive or performing poorly academically. This is their way of saying to seek professional help before the child really starts to struggle in school.
Whether it is diagnosis or treatment, it is best to first consult with a qualified professional health provider, such as a pediatrician or a psychologist. Only they can determine if a child has ADHD.