Is a child simply “acting up” or does he or she have ADHD? Symptoms are easier to detect in children than adults and include constant daydreaming, inability to mix with other kids, tendency to talk a lot, impulsive behavior, absent-mindedness, fidgetiness, etc. Adults may display milder symptoms that need careful attention to pin down. Medication and behavior therapy can help control ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is more commonly referred to, is a brain disorder that results in hyperactive, impulsive behavior and inattention. It makes normal functioning a challenge and hampers development.1 The recommended management of ADHD involves both behavior therapy and medication for children who are 6 years and older.2
In reality, data reveals that only 1 in 3 gets this combination of care. Behavior therapy, the first-line treatment suggested for preschoolers, was received by just half the 4 to 5 year olds with ADHD.3 There is a need for early diagnosis and the right line of treatment to enable those with ADHD to integrate and perform better.
Types Of ADHD
ADHD can manifest in three broad types – predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Depending on what kind of ADHD a child or adolescent has, they will show different symptoms. Those with a combined presentation of symptoms will show both sets of characteristics.4
Someone with inattentiveness is easily distracted and will have trouble completing a task, organizing themselves, following instructions, keeping up with conversation, or attending to details.
Anyone with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD can’t sit still for too long, talks incessantly, fidgets, and is restless. As a young child they will constantly be climbing, jumping, or running. They are also prone to interrupting others and snatching things, finding it hard to wait or listen to instructions. They tend to be accident-prone.
Spotting ADHD: Symptoms To Look Out For
Some of the symptoms of ADHD can be hard to differentiate from routine “childish” behavior. However, when this behavior persists even as a child grows up, it could be a sign of ADHD. These can result in difficulties for the child when interacting with others at home, school, and out in the playground with peers.
Typically, children with ADHD will drift off into a daydream, be forgetful, lose their things frequently, and make careless mistakes. They also tend to fidget and squirm a lot. They face challenges in “getting along” with other people and have issues with waiting for their turn at work or play. Their impulse control is weaker, making it hard for them to resist temptation and driving them to take unnecessary risks. Children with ADHD often also talk too much.5
It is easier to spot this behavior among young children because of the proximity of the parents and caregivers. In addition, pre-school children with signs of behavioral or emotional issues can get assistance from their school district for Early Childhood Special Education services. These special educators are better equipped to notice symptoms and track progress.6
With adolescents and teens, the diagnosis may need the specialist to speak to teachers as well as the parents. Older teenagers with ADHD may not show signs of the overt hyperactivity that one sees in younger children, making it harder to pin down.7
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Clinical Practice Guideline also highlights that other conditions may exist alongside ADHD. These include anxiety, depression, disorderly behavior, language and development issues, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, tics, disruptive behavior, seizures, and other behavioral challenges.8
Importance Of Diagnosing ADHD
ADHD is a condition that doesn’t have a “cure”, but can be managed better once it is diagnosed. Failing to detect it in time can lead to impaired development. A 2015 study on children with ADHD that was being treated versus those whose ADHD was untreated found that academic performance was much better among those who were receiving treatment.9
Study results also show that children with ADHD were likelier to experience major injury and had a higher incidence of both inpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as emergency department admissions at hospitals than those who did not have ADHD.10 As a parent of a child with ADHD, you would be better equipped to cope with such behavioral challenges and could potentially prevent some amount of injury if you knew the child had the disorder.
As children grow into adulthood undiagnosed, new problems crop up. For instance, the inattention results in driving accidents among young adults with untreated ADHD. On the other hand, stimulants used to treat distraction or impulsiveness in those diagnosed early could help address ADHD-related problems that result in traffic accidents.11
Besides children, there are millions of adults with ADHD who lead their lives completely undiagnosed. One clinical neuropsychologist found that of the many adults he met who fulfilled the criteria to be diagnosed with ADHD, just 10 percent had actually been diagnosed and treated.12 Another study of undiagnosed adults with ADHD found that they had higher degrees of functional impairment as well as co-occurring disorders or illnesses. They also had a much higher incidence of depression. Many had drinking problems. These undiagnosed adults were lower on educational achievement and faced interpersonal and emotional challenges.13
While much more research remains to be done, what is clear is that there are some definite benefits to recognizing symptoms, getting an early diagnosis, and beginning treatment.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health.|
|2, 6, 8.||↑||ATTENTION-DEFICIT, SUBCOMMITTEE ON. “ADHD: clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents.” Pediatrics (2011): peds-2011.|
|3.||↑||Visser, Susanna N., Rebecca H. Bitsko, Melissa L. Danielson, Reem M. Ghandour, Stephen J. Blumberg, Laura A. Schieve, Joseph R. Holbrook, Mark L. Wolraich, and Steven P. Cuffe. “Treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder among children with special health care needs.” The Journal of pediatrics 166, no. 6 (2015): 1423-1430.|
|4, 5.||↑||Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|7.||↑||Young, J. “Common comorbidities seen in adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Adolescent medicine: state of the art reviews 19, no. 2 (2008): 216-28.|
|9, 11.||↑||Segal, Alvin, and Liat Habinski. “What we know about ADHD and driving risk: a literature review, meta-analysis and critique.” J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 15, no. 3 (2006): 105.|
|10.||↑||Leibson, Cynthia L., Slavica K. Katusic, William J. Barbaresi, Jeanine Ransom, and Peter C. O’Brien. “Use and costs of medical care for children and adolescents with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Jama 285, no. 1 (2001): 60-66.|
|12.||↑||Undiagnosed ADHD affects millions of adults — and their romantic relationships, American Psychological Association.|
|13.||↑||Able, Stephen L., Joseph A. Johnston, Lenard A. Adler, and Ralph W. Swindle. “Functional and psychosocial impairment in adults with undiagnosed ADHD.” Psychological medicine 37, no. 01 (2007): 97-107.|