ADHD is one of the most common behavioral disorders among children. Between 3 percent and 5 percent of all children may suffer from this condition. It is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyper activity and/or impulsivity that occurs in academic, occupational or social settings. It is best defined as a condition where an individual’s attention span is dramatically less than what is expected for an individual of that age.
Although ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, it is not a disorder limited to children and it often persists into adolescence and adulthood. Frequently, it is not diagnosed until later years.
According to the NIMH, ADHD is characterized by three major categories.
- Inattention — People who are inattentive have a hard time keeping their minds on any one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. They may give effortless, automatic attention to activities and things they enjoy, but focusing deliberately on organizing and completing a task or learning something new is difficult.
- Hyperactivity— People who are hyperactive, always seem to be moving. Hyperactive teens and adults may feel restless throughout the day whenever long periods of attention are required or they move from one activity to another all at once.
- Impulsivity— People that are overly impulsive, seem unable to reduce their immediate reactions to a circumstance or be able to think completely through before acting on a situation.
What causes ADHD? —ADHD is not caused by dysfunctional parenting, and those with ADHD do not merely lack intelligence or discipline. There are several potential causes but none proven. Since parental support seems to lesson the affects of ADHD, parental involvement is encouraged. Style of parenting does not seem to have an impact on the condition itself.
Strong scientific evidence supports the conclusion that ADHD us a biologically based disorder. Biological studies suggest that children with ADHD may have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in critical regions of the brain, which may account for many of the signs and symptoms of ADHD. Brain imaging studies have shown that brain metabolism is lower in individuals with ADHD than in normal controls. More important, these studies show significantly lower metabolic activity in the regions of the brain that control attention, social judgment and movement. There is strong evidence that ADHD has a genetic basis in some cases. Scientific studies have not verified dietary factors as a main cause of ADHD. Environmental factors might have an influence on the development of ADHD. These include cigarette, alcohol or drug use during pregnancy. Each of these substances may damage the baby’s developing brain and may be responsible for some conditions related to ADHD. The most proven treatments are medication and behavioral therapy.
Medication —Stimulants are the most widely used drugs for treating attention-deficient/hyperactivity disorder. Medications such as s Ritalin, Cylert, and Dexedrine have been successful in treating the symptoms associated with ADHD. However, there is a great deal of debate about the long-term effect of the medication. Every person reacts to the treatment differently, so it is important to work closely and communicate openly with the physician. Some common side effects of stimulant medications include weight loss, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, and in children, a temporary slowness of growth. However, these reactions can often be controlled with dosage adjustments. Medication has proven effective in the short-term treatment of more than 76 percent of individuals, but specialists must monitored in this area (e.g. a child psychiatrist).
Treatment strategies such as rewarding positive behavior changes and communicating clear expectations of those with ADHD have also proven effective. Additionally, it is extremely important for family members and teachers or employers to remain patient and understanding.
Children with ADHD can also benefit from caregivers paying close attention to their progress, adapting classroom environments to accommodate their needs and using positive reinforcement. Formal educational testing and an evaluation for speech and language disorders should be preformed. Where appropriate, parents should work with the school for special classroom accommodations for the child.
Approximately 25 percent of children with ADHD (mostly younger children and boys) also experience anxiety and depression. At least 25 percent of children with ADHD suffer from some type of communication or learning disability. There is also a correlation with Tourette’s syndrome. Research is also beginning to show that ADHD-like symptoms are sometimes actually manifestations of childhood-onset bipolar disorder.