More than 16 Million Kids Have ADHD, and Diagnosis can Help Them Flourish
I have many adult friends with ADHD and see a lot of ADHD in children I know. I actually wonder if one of my kids has it and have been observing them for ADHD symptoms.
ADHD is SO common. But what’s not common is community understanding of the struggles and advantages of ADHD.
People with ADHD often feel “less than” just because they can’t sit still behind a desk all day or finish a project in one sitting. This can lead to low self esteem and even anxiety and depression.
Living with ADHD is hard, and takes incredible strength. But if you can identify ADHD symptoms and figure out coping mechanisms, you can do great things.
You can help yourself or your child harness the parts of ADHD that can take you off course, and bring out the gifts that people with ADHD can offer the world. Gifts like energy, big ideas, risk taking, ability to overcome obstacles and incredible powers of observation.
All Kids are Active and Impatient, but Kids With ADHD Can’t Turn it Off
Adults know that certain behaviors from children are to be expected. These behaviors are a necessary part of a child’s growth and development.
Children test limits: they test their own physical limits, and they test your limits of patience. They are hyper and seem to never stop moving. Kids are impatient and sometimes won’t sit still. We expect all that. Impulsivity, hyperactivity and being distracted are all normal behaviors.
So how do you know when the line has been crossed from normal to abnormal, and when a child could use extra help understanding how their brain works?
Symptoms of ADHD in Children
For more than 16 million children in the United States, those normal behaviors cross the line into attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood,” says Metro Health – University of Michigan Health pediatrician Douglas O’Mara, MD.
“Children with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors or may be overly active.”
Dr. O’Mara tells us that according to guidelines outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is used to help diagnose ADHD, children under 17 must exhibit six or more of the following symptoms to be officially diagnosed:
- Lack of attention or making frequent mistakes
- Failing to finish tasks on time
- Being easily distracted or forgetful
- Not listening
- Being disorganized
- Being fidgety or restless
- Age inappropriate hyperactivity
- Excessive talking
- Being disruptive or intrusive with others
ADHD doesn’t look the same for every child. Some present as predominantly inattentive, others as hyperactive and impulsive, and some have a combination of both.
The severity of these symptoms also varies from mild to moderate to severe.
Dr. O’Mara understands that it can be difficult to know if your child’s symptoms meet the threshold for ADHD, and while there’s no single test to diagnose, there is a clear process for getting there.
Diagnosing and Treating ADHD in Children
“The first step of the process involves having a medical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other health issues with symptoms similar to ADHD,” says Dr. O’Mara.
After this, you will fill out a checklist to rate symptoms. Once these are complete, Dr. O’Mara says he typically gathers a history from parents and teachers, and talks to the child as well.
In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication, according to Dr. O’Mara.
“For preschool-aged children (4-5 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy—particularly training for parents—is recommended as the first line of treatment before medication is tried.”
Life With ADHD
ADHD in children can last into adulthood for at least one-third of children.
Just because a child is diagnosed with ADHD, doesn’t mean he or she will always struggle. Individuals with ADHD can be just as successful in life as those without ADHD, if it’s identified early and treated.
Addressing ADHD in your child is one of the most important steps to helping them. If they can learn how their brain works differently, and that they are not broken, they can start learning how to live a healthy life with ADHD.
Kids with ADHD who are never treated often struggle.
“Children with untreated ADHD may face problems at home and at school,” Dr. O’Mara explains.
“The child may not learn everything they’re taught and fall behind and get poor grades. They may struggle to control their emotions, which can lead to social problems and low self-esteem or even depression. The problems may only get worse as the child enters his or her teens.”
Dr. O’Mara encourages families to work with a team to help their child with ADHD. This team includes health care providers, teachers, behavioral therapists and other adults who care for your kid.
“Your role as a parent is critical,” Dr. O’Mara emphasizes. “You are an important part of the team that will monitor your child’s response to medications and behavior therapy.”
Dr. O’Mara encourages any parents who wonder if their child’s behavior is just a part of normal growing up, or if it could be ADHD, to discuss it further with their child’s healthcare provider.
He also points to the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) organization as a great place for parents to go for information, resources, advice and support.
Metro Health – University of Michigan Health
Multiple locations across West Michigan.