ADHD Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management
Jonquils and snowdrops are starting to bloom as the South begins to shake off an uncharacteristically cold winter. Warm afternoons and sunshine are enough to distract the most dedicated among us from our work. As adults, managing our attention spans to focus on the task at hand is a vital skill. We start to learn the importance of focus, as well as ways to manage our time as children.
In recent years, doctors and public health officials have watched as increasing numbers of children, especially boys, are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the U.S., the rates of ADHD have increased annually by 5.5 percent from 2003 to 2007. (Globally, the trend is a 3 percent annual increase.) Today, I’m sharing a brief overview of one of the most common childhood disorders.
The most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013) defines the criteria for ADHD symptoms. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must exhibit at least six symptoms of inattention and six symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Symptoms of inattention include:
- Easily distracted
- Often forgetful in daily activity
- Trouble listening when spoken to directly
- Reluctance or avoiding tasks like schoolwork or homework that require mental effort over a long period of time
- Trouble organizing tasks and activities
Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:
- Talking excessively
- Trouble waiting for their turn
- Tendency to fidget, tapping fingers and toes or squirming in their seat
- Often running or climbing in situations where it is not appropriate
To properly diagnose a child with ADHD, your health care provider will need to rely on descriptions from parents, daycare providers and teachers and other individuals that spend significant time with your child. A specialist may participate, observing your child during a variety of activities.
Your doctor should rule out the possibility of an underlying cause, such as a vision, language or hearing issue that may be the true cause of a child’s inattention. Learning disabilities should also be ruled out before a diagnosis of ADHD.
As the rates of ADHD diagnosis rapidly rise, many have called attention to the possibility of over diagnosis. Studies have shown that as state and federal standards for schools rise in importance, so do the rates of ADHD diagnosis. Others have argued that drug companies are to blame for the rising rates of ADHD, “selling” the disorder to parents and doctors. There is evidence to suggest that ADHD is over diagnosed, so if you’re worried about your child, make sure to find a doctor willing to be thorough.
Once a child is diagnosed with ADHD, treatment may include prescription drugs and behavioral therapy. Parental education can also be helpful, as children with ADHD do not respond as well to traditional parenting tactics. For example, a child with ADHD requires clear, brief instructions instead of long-winded instructions.
Some parents may begin to worry about a child’s diet as the cause. Currently, there is no research that supports the idea that ADHD is caused by a diet high in sugar or a diet that includes foods with additives. But a good diet can help manage ADHD symptoms.
If your child has been diagnosed, have your doctor spend time educating you about methods of treatment and helpful ways to manage ADHD. Entire communities are dedicated to helping parents and children cope with the challenges ADHD presents – remember that children with ADHD can thrive!
Looking for more? Follow these links for in-depth resources.
The CDC ADHD Homepage Covers symptoms, treatment, data and statistics, as well as education and training.
National Institutes of Health: The History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder This article is truly in-depth, following the history of ADHD diagnoses back to the 1790s. The history is for the truly curious!
National Institutes of Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder The basics of ADHD.
CHADD A nationally recognized resource, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a great place to learn about managing your individual ADHD and parenting children with ADHD.