By Charlotte Armstrong
No one knows better than parents how every child is an individual. One child in a family can be quiet and reserved, while another is outgoing and full of energy. For most children, a tendency to get slightly distracted, or a high level of activity, are occasional and not impairing; they fall within what is normal for any boy or girl.
Some children, however, have problems with school, in the family, and with friends because of these symptoms. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder characterized by impairment resulting from problems remaining focused and paying attention, and hyperactivity, or moving around too much.
Children with ADHD may be constantly in motion, and find it difficult to remain seated. They may talk nonstop and have difficulty doing quiet tasks. Also, they may have difficulty focusing and are easily distracted. It may be hard for them to absorb information, keep instructions in mind, and follow directions. Some children with these symptoms may be relatively quiet, so the condition may not be creating problems for others. Other children with ADHD have features of both hyperactivity and inattention that others notice easily.
About 5 to 7 percent of school age children in the United States have an ADHD diagnosis. Boys are at least three times as likely to be diagnosed as girls. While boys are more likely to have the hyperactive type of ADHD, girls are more likely to have the inattentive type; they may be quiet but nonetheless have great difficulty focusing and completing tasks.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s behavior should gather as much information as possible, and check with their pediatrician. The reports of teachers are important to getting a picture of how a child behaves in the structured environment of school. It may also be helpful to consult a specialist such as a child psychiatrist or psychologist. Children with ADHD may have other conditions including learning disabilities, or anxiety and depression. A specialist can make a complete evaluation and recommend treatment.
Treatment of ADHD is aimed at reducing the symptoms and improving how the child functions. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, and education and training. The types and combination of treatments need to be individualized, and treatment with medication needs to be carefully monitored. Medication can be very effective at reducing the symptoms of ADHD, but training to help a child with organization and interacting with others is also important.
The family of a child with ADHD can help by providing structure to the day, helping with strategies to handle the demands of school, and offering praise for successes. Learning positive ways to deal with ADHD can not only help the child, but can reduce tensions within the family that may result from dealing with disruptive behavior. Treatment and understanding can help children with ADHD reach their full potential in school and life.
Charlotte Armstrong is a Science Writer with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure. For more information visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml.
For more information from the National Institute of Mental Health, visit:
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