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Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder


Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

In a classroom of 30 children or youth, it is likely that at least two students are affected by ADHD.

In a classroom of 30 children or youth, it is likely that at least two students are affected by ADHD. This surprisingly common condition makes it hard for children and youth to control their behavior (sit still, think before speaking or acting, etc.) and/or to pay attention. If left untreated, it can lead to school or job difficulties, depression, relationship problems, and substance abuse.
ADHD often co-occurs with other disorders such as the following: learning disabilities, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety or mood disorders, language and communication disorders, and Tourette' s disorder.

What Is ADHD? Types of ADHD include the hyperactive-impulsive type, the inattentive type, and a type that is a combination of both. The severity of ADHD varies among children, even siblings, so no two children will have exactly the same symptoms. Also, you may hear that girls have lower rates and less severe cases of the disorder than boys. More research is needed on this subject, but girls may have lower rates of the hyperactive type.

Hyperactive-Impulsive Type:

  • Feeling restless, often fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming while seated 
  • Running, climbing, or getting up in situations where quiet behavior is expected 
  • Blurting out answers before hearing the whole question 
  • Having difficulty waiting in line or taking turns
Inattentive Type:
  • May appear to not be listening or easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds 
  • Often failing to pay attention to details, and making careless mistakes 
  • Rarely following instructions carefully, and often losing or forgetting things like toys, pencils, books, or other tools needed for a task 
  • Often skipping from one uncompleted activity to another 

Experts believe that in some cases, heredity plays a role in whether or not a child has ADHD. Symptoms of ADHD are first seen in children before age 6 and may cause problems at home, at school, or in relationships. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if a child has ADHD because symptoms may be mistaken for typical childhood behaviors or other mental health issues, and ADHD often occurs at the same time that other conditions are present. Equally important are the roles that a family's culture and language play in how causes and symptoms are perceived and then described to a mental health care provider. Misperceptions and misunderstandings can lead to delayed diagnoses, misdiagnoses, or no diagnoses-which are serious problems when a child needs help. It is important that only qualified health care or mental health care providers diagnose ADHD, and that supports be in place to bridge differences in language and culture.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must have at least six of the symptoms listed below, lasting at least six months, with some having started before age seven. These behaviors must also significantly interfere with at least two areas of life, such as school and home.

  • Fidgets with hands or feet 
  • Squirms in seat or feels restless 
  • Has difficulty remaining seated when required to do so 
  • Easily distracted 
  • Difficulty waiting turn in games or group situations 
  • Blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed 
  • Difficulty following through on instructions from others 
  • Shifts from one uncompleted activity to another 
  • Difficulty playing quietly 
  • Talks excessively 
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others 
  • Does not seem to listen to what is being said to him/her 
  • Loses things necessary for tasks or activities 
  • Engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences 
  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities 

ADHD is a biological disorder that appears to be genetically or developmentally based. The symptoms frequently begin at birth, as seen in feeding or sleeping problems. Researchers believe that there may be either a chemical or electrical problem in the brain caused by abnormalities in the development of the brain or genetic differences. For example, it appears that a lower level of activity in some parts of the brain may cause inattention.
Environmental factors such as viruses, harmful chemicals, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco during pregnancy are also considered as possible causes of ADHD. These factors may affect normal brain development, which lead to the development of symptoms associated with AD/HD.

Treatments If ADHD is suspected, an assessment or evaluation may initially be done by a school psychologist, family physician, or pediatrician. This individual may then refer a family to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist and/or psychologist.
Medications such as Ritalin, Cylert, Dexedrine, and Adderall are commonly used for treatment. These stimulants increase activity in the parts of the brain that are underactive in youth with ADHD. Approximately two-thirds of children with AD/HD will respond to one of these medications.
Behavioral therapy in combination with medication has also been shown to be effective in treating ADHD. This approach often involves strategies such as rewarding positive behavior changes and communicating clear and consistent expectations. It is important to initiate a consistent behavior management program in all areas of life (i.e., school and home).
It may be necessary and beneficial to provide a child with AD/HD with special accommodations at school that help him/her to succeed. For example, a teacher may seat the child in an area with few distractions or may allow the child extra time on tests. If accommodations in a regular education classroom are not effective, a special education classroom should be made available. Educating parents and children is very valuable in helping to manage this disorder.

Suggested Reading
  • Survival Strategies for Parenting Your ADD Child, by Lynn, G. T. 
  • The Hyperactive Child, Adolescent, and Adult: ADD thru the Lifespan, by Wenderg, Paul H. 
  • Maybe You Know My Kid: A Parent 's Guide to Identifying, Understanding, and Helping your Child with ADHD, by Fowler, M. 
  • Shelly the Hyperactive Turtle, by Moss D. 
  • Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention, by Nadeau, K., & Dixon, E. (ages 6-12) 
  • The "Putting on the Brakes " Activity Book for Young People with ADHD, by Quinn M.D.,Patricia 0. & Stern, M.A., Judith (ages 8-12)

Other Resources Attention Deficit Information Network (Ad-TN)
Tel: (781)458-9895

Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Tel: (301)306-7070

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health
(866)615-6464 (toll-free; English/Spanish) TTY: (301) 443-8431

National Mental Health Information Center
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(800) 789-2647 (toll free; English/Spanish) TDD: (866) 889-2647

National Resource Center on AD/HD
Tel: (800)233-4050

This information was provided by:

National Alliance on Mental Illness-Iowa
5911 Meredith Drive, Ste. E
Des Moines, Iowa 50322-1903
Phone: (515) 254-0417
    (800) 417-0417