It’s estimated that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects up to 5 percent of school-aged children. But many parents may wonder whether their child is showing signs of the condition or is simply being a kid.
In this Q & A, Dr. Amy Morse a pediatric psychologist at CHOC, helps parents understand what signs to look for, what steps to take if ADHD is suspected, and how parents can support children with the condition.
The diagnostic criteria for ADHD includes a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning/development with symptoms inconsistent with developmental level that negatively impact directly on social and academic/occupational activities. Possible signs include trouble paying attention; trouble focusing on one thing at a time; trouble keeping still; trouble thinking before acting; trouble keeping track of things; and trouble learning in school.
ADHD in children ages 6 to 12 can often looks like an inability to recognize the needs of others which may come in the form of interrupting, difficulty waiting their turn, excessive talkativeness, or fidgeting with or tapping their hands.
While toddlers can exhibit early signs of ADHD – for example, an inability to stay calm for simple activities like eating or reading a book, excessive fidgeting, and constant motion – these behaviors may be suggestive of another developmental process. Timely communication with a pediatrician is important to help understand behavior and provide appropriate resources.
While 2.5 to 4% percent of adults have ADHD, many adults are not aware they have it. They might exhibit symptoms like an inability to concentrate or fully listen, as well as restlessness. However, ADHD does not develop in adulthood – multiple signs must be present during childhood.
ADHD is more frequent in males than in females in the general population (two-to-one in children). Females are more likely than males to present primarily with inattentive features, which can lead to missed diagnoses. Without intervention, these internalized symptoms can contribute to low self-esteem. In contrast, ADHD symptoms in boys are more commonly associated with hyperactivity or impulsiveness, which are more recognizable to the general public.
While each child is different, ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattentiveness can occur in children and teens from varying ethnicities, gender and sexual orientations. That said, Brown and Black youth are more likely to be under or over diagnosed as compared to their White peers. These outcomes can be attributed to several factors related to barriers to timely access of mental health services.
ADHD should be diagnosed by a healthcare professional, such as a primary care doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. When diagnosing ADHD, providers look for at least six of the common signs of ADHD occurring in more than one setting. For example, symptoms occur at home and in daycare or school.
ADHD can sometimes be mistaken for other mental health conditions. For instance, anxiety, depression and learning disorders can also make it hard for a child to focus. It is also possible for ADHD to exist alongside anxiety, depression or learning problems. Since symptoms can look so different in each child, getting diagnosed by a professional with experience working with ADHD in kids is important to help figure out the right treatment for your child.
Learning to care for a child with ADHD might feel overwhelming for parents. Families must decide whether to use medications, behavior therapy or a combination of both as treatment. It is important for parents to talk with a medical professional about their child and treatment options.
Don’t just focus on weaknesses; find your child’s strengths. This helps keep their self-esteem up. Give them opportunities to shine. Parents should educate themselves about ADHD, the education laws and what services their child may be eligible to receive from their school district. Parents are their child’s best advocates.