Who among us – child or grownup – hasn’t had a hard time sitting still, paying attention or controlling our impulses on occasion? But for some children and teens (and yes, some adults) these difficulties can go far beyond what the rest of us may occasionally experience, eroding self-esteem and derailing schoolwork, social relationships and even family time.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most common (if not the most common) neurobiological behavior disorders in children, affecting millions of school-aged children. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 3 to 7 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 17 have ADHD, but some studies have estimated that the rate is much higher.
Diagnosed far more frequently in boys than in girls, ADHD is a chronic condition characterized by impulsivity, inattentiveness and over-activity. Children diagnosed with ADHD may have trouble sticking with class activities at school, sitting still at book time or quiet time and focusing on tasks. They may also act out impulsively or in developmentally inappropriate ways.
Though no one knows the precise cause of ADHD, studies suggest that the brains of children with ADHD may differ from other children in the way they handle neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. There’s evidence that the disorder may run in families and begin early in a child’s life as the brain develops.
Children who have ADHD often have other developmental or behavioral issues as well and sometimes have psychiatric disorders or conditions that can complicate diagnoses. Issues that can be confused with – or may coincide with – ADHD include depression, sleep deprivation, learning disabilities, tic disorders and behavioral issues.
Until recently, most experts believed that children eventually simply grew out of ADHD, usually sometime during adolescence. In fact, while symptoms do often retreat when children with ADHD reach their teens, more recent evidence suggests that, in many cases, some symptoms can last straight through to adulthood.
Early diagnosis and treatment are believed to be key to mitigating the effects of ADHD. Treatment generally includes a combination of medications and behavioral therapy.
While learning that your child has been diagnosed with ADHD can be scary for parents, it can also be the beginning of help – and hope. Yes, symptoms of ADHD can be difficult for kids and parents to contend with, but when properly diagnosed and treated, children with ADHD can lead normal, productive lives and grow up to be just as successful as their peers.