ADHD Health Conditions Hub

Dealing With ADHD

Does your child have trouble focusing or finishing tasks? These are signs of the disorder

Is your child in constant motion? Does he or she talk incessantly? Or have trouble focusing and prefer to daydream?

Then your child may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

This disorder often begins between the ages of 3 and 6 years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it’s not just a childhood disease: ADHD may continue through the teenage years and into adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 11 percent of children 4 to 17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.

Three types of ADHD are recognized:

  • inattentive (trouble focusing, following instructions and finishing tasks)
  • hyperactive-impulsive (constantly on the go, talking excessively and interrupting others)
  • combined (symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity)

Studies show the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD continues to increase, from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2011, according to the CDC. Tiffany R. Farchione, M.D., a child psychiatrist at FDA, reviews drugs to treat ADHD. She explains the increase may be due to a greater public awareness of the disorder and psychiatric illnesses in general.

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Boys (13.2 percent) were more likely than girls (5.6 percent) to have ever been diagnosed with the disorder. In addition, boys are more likely to have the hyperactive-impulsive type, which is easier to spot than the quieter child who is inattentive, Dr. Farchione says.

If you suspect your child might have ADHD, see your family doctor or pediatrician, Dr. Farchione suggests. Your child’s vision, hearing and anything else that may contribute to inattention should also be checked. The doctor may diagnose ADHD or refer your child to a mental health specialist for evaluation.

Left untreated, ADHD can have serious consequences. A child may fall behind in school, encounter difficulties in friendships and have conflicts with parents, says the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Studies show children with untreated ADHD have more emergency room visits and are more likely to have self-inflicted injuries than those treated for the disorder. Untreated adolescents with ADHD are more likely to take risks, such as drinking and driving. And they have twice as many motor vehicle accidents as those who are treated.

Two types of medications—stimulants and non-stimulants—have been approved to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve functioning in children as young as 6.

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It may seem counterintuitive, Dr. Farchione says, but despite their name, stimulants, which contain various forms of methylphenidate and amphetamine, actually have a calming effect on hyperactive children with ADHD. They are believed to increase brain levels of dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, attention and movement.

Non-stimulants—Strattera, Intuniv and Kapvay—can be useful alternatives for children who do not tolerate stimulants well. Talk with your health-care professional about what medications may be best for your child.

In addition to medication, some children with ADHD receive behavioral therapy to help manage symptoms and provide added coping skills. Concerned parents also can reach out to their children’s schools and community support groups for information and guidance on how to cope with ADHD behavior. “It’s helpful to engage with the different individuals who are involved in a child’s life when managing the disorder,” Dr. Farchione says.

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