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ADHD in Children
Posted by Mary Thompson

Many parents mistake their children’s ADHD for laziness or lack of motivation. The truth is that sometimes ADHD is easy to recognize or very easy to overlook. Treatments and medications are still evolving today as researchers achieve better understandings of this complex disorder. However, if you have any doubts or questions about your child’s behavior, it is recommended to consult your pediatrician or a health professional first to determine whether or not your child has ADHD or if they are just being kids.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, a common neurodevelopmental disorder that mostly children are diagnosed with. It‘s characteristics are inattention, or excessive activity and impulsivity that are not appropriate for someone's age. Another common trait that people with this disorder have is the difficulty to control their emotions and/or have problems with executive function.

Executive function is the system that manages the brain. This system is in charge of working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Without this set of skills people struggle to work, learn, and manage their daily life making it very hard to:

  • Paying attention
  • Organize, plan, and prioritize things
  • Start tasks and focus on completing them
  • Understand people’s different points of view
  • Regulate emotions
  • Keep track of what you are doing
  • Remember what you just heard or read
  • Follow directions or steps
  • Organize your thoughts
  • Keep track of your belongings
  • Manage time

Although these types of difficulties can cause trouble with learning it does not mean that the person is incapable of intelligence, it just means that the person will have to adjust and work twice as hard to focus on tasks that might seem easy for someone who does not have this condition. But recognizing these difficulties and getting the appropriate help at an early age can help to easily control and manage them later on.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Only a mental-health professional can tell whether or not the symptoms of distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity are severe enough to diagnose it as ADHD. These diagnosis guidelines are located in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and are used specifically to diagnose children ranging from the ages of 4 to 18 years of age and whose behavioral problems are so frequent and severe that they are interfering with their ability to properly function on a daily basis.

As we all know, limited attention spans and difficulty in staying still are more common in young children than in adults. Additionally, boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls but the ratios vary by type. That’s right, there is more than just one type of ADHD, in fact, there are three different types:

  • Predominantly inattentive: This means that the child is having trouble staying on task, has problems organizing, is not paying attention to detail, and they find it hard to follow instructions or even keeping up with conversations. In other words, they are easily distracted.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-impulsive: In this type, as the name makes it clear, it has to do more with impulses, meaning that the child does not have control of their actions and is often unaware of them taking charge. For example, the child might fidget and talk a lot, has difficulty sitting still and is constantly moving, and feels restless. And due to struggles with impulsivity the child might interrupt conversations by speaking at inappropriate times, grab other people’s belongings without permission and even exhibit inability to wait for his or her turn.
  • Combined Presentation, this type shares the symptoms of the first two in an equal amount.

In order to receive a diagnosis of ADHD at an early age, symptoms have to be present for more than six months, they have to be noticed in two or more settings meaning that the behaviour must persists at home as well as in school and/or other public places, and finally the child has to be younger than the age of twelve. The reason why is because ADHD symptoms change and evolve with age and once a child becomes a teenager it is very difficult for a physician to be certain that the symptoms are linked to ADHD or if they are just going through the changes of an usual teenager.

Although ADHD can be diagnosed, there are no specific tests that can assure it. Most of the diagnosis is based on information gathered by parents, teachers and others that have noticed these symptoms persist on a child. Teachers and school staff can provide helpful information to the parents and the doctors to help with the student’s learning problems and can even perform behavioral training, however, they cannot diagnose ADHD or require the student to take medication to attend school.

The causes of ADHD

Many people believe that poor parental discipline, too much sugar, and/or too much time spent on video games causes the condition and that is not at all true. However, ineffective parenting can worsen the way it is expressed, but finding different parenting techniques can definitely help the child manage and better their behavior.

ADHD is a brain-based biological disorder and even though there is not an exact cause, scientists have found that three out of four children with the condition have a relative with the disorder and that it is likely for it to be passed down genetically.

Researchers also suspect that ADHD is caused by a shortage of the creation of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s ability to maintain regular and steady attention. In other words, ADHD is believed to be caused by chemical imbalances and miscommunication of neurons that may struggle to get messages across the brain and/or nervous system. There are other possible factors that are believed to contribute to the development of ADHD, such as being born prematurely, brain injuries/head trauma, and exposure of alcohol and/or tobacco in the utero.

Tips for parents

Here are some suggestions and strategies that may help you and your child control and even better their behaviour during this lifelong condition:

  • Create a routine for them. Try to keep and follow the same schedule every day from the moment they wake up until it is time for bed.
  • Set expectations. In a kind way be clear that you expect them to work on these skills and that you will be there along the way to help them if they need anything.
  • Teach them organization skills. Encourage your child to put their school bags, toys, and clothing items where they belong so they can keep track of their stuff and not lose it.
  • Make plans and limit their choices. Focus on doing one thing at a time with your child. Give them options but not so many as they can overwhelm them. For example, have them choose between which kind of meal they would like to eat, if they want to play with one toy or the other or even choosing which outfit they would like to wear at school.
  • Manage their distractions. For example, If they are putting off school work to watch television, turn it off. When your child is doing homework it is very important to limit noises because even the sound of the washing machine finishing its cycle can distract them.
  • Let your child set small, realistic goals and reward them when they are completed. You can use a chart to keep track of positive behaviours and encourage them when they become too difficult for them. Be understanding and let them know they have done well by telling them or by taking them out for ice cream.
  • Discipline effectively. Instead of yelling or spanking, use effective directions, put them on time-out or even remove their privileges as a consequence for bad behaviour.
  • Provide a healthy lifestyle. It is very important that your child receives sufficient sleep as it can increase focus and improve their mood. Help them focus their energy in extracurricular and fun physical activities such as playing a sport or an instrument and finally, introduce nutritious foods into their diets.

Every person’s ADHD affects them in different ways. You can use this information to have a better understanding of your child’s disorder and help them at an early age to either control or focus their impulses in a positive way. Unfortunately, there is no cure for ADHD and it does not just go away as children reach adulthood. All there is to do as a parent is to guide them towards better ways to focus all that energy and help them turn it into something that is going to benefit them in the future.