By Dr. Gerald Deskin, Ph.D.
ADHD is one of the most frequent diagnoses given to school-age children today. It is also the question most parents want answers to. About 5% of all children suffer from ADHD and about 50% of all special education students. Twice as many boys suffer from the problem than do girls.
What is ADHD? Children who have difficulty paying attention, who are impulsive and usually show excessive motor activity have this problem. Their inattention shows in their difficulty concentrating in the classroom or doing homework. They may not finish things that they start. They often tend to daydream, or stare out the window rather than doing what their teacher expects of them. They often show inappropriate levels of activity, such as being unable to sit still and listen, kick the chair in front of them, or get out of their seat at the wrong time. Strangely these children can often watch a TV program without showing any of this behavior. However, as soon as some competing behavior distracts them, they may no longer be able to sit still. It is this inability to keep their focus while other activities are going on that is the hallmark of the impulsive child.
These children behave differently in social groups. Since they have difficulty paying attention they often are not easily accepted by other children. With many ADHD children their peers tend to avoid them. The link between ADHD and aggressive behavior is a strong one and often leads to misunderstanding and to fights with other children. Just the expectation that a child is hyperactive can decrease the friendliness of other children. It is also true that normal children respond in a different manner when playing with these children as if to avoid problems.
Other problems coexist with ADHD. About half the children with this problem may also have major problems with depression or anxiety. This presents real difficulty for the professional in deciding whether a child is anxious, depressed and/or has ADHD. Because of this problem teachers and others give many children the wrong label. In addition many children with ADHD have Tourettes syndrome that shows itself often with tics or vulgar outbursts.
As these children get older their behavior seems to change. For example their hyperactivity and gross motor activity is changed into fidgetiness and restlessness. However, we are still dealing with the same problem. As these children become adolescents they are more likely to show antisocial behavior or experiment with drugs. With many children, earlier childhood aggression either stays the same, or lessens and changes to problems in social relationships.
There are three different kinds of ADHD. The first is the child who is predominantly inattentive and shows little hyperactivity, but has difficulty focusing and concentrating. The second is the child who shows mostly hyperactive and impulsive behavior. The third is the child who shows a combination of both. Girls tend to show more of the first kind of behavior. They are inattentive and restless, but not as hyperactive as most boys with the same problem. Those children with the combined type tend to have most problems with their conduct. They are often negative and aggressive, both at home and at school. There is a high family-genetic risk in that about 25% of ADHD children have family members with the same problem.
What can be done to help solve the problems? The best approach to resolving ADHD difficulties is to get an evaluation by a psychologist who is familiar in diagnosing the problem. This may lead to several helpful approaches. A referral to a psychiatrist may lead to prescription for medication such as Ritalin, Dexedrine, or Cylert to help the child control his/her behavior.
Family counselors and Psychologists may counsel parents as to how to work with their children. Educational therapists are trained to deal with the special educational problems working on a one-to-one basis to help them overcome their learning problems. There are other approaches that have had mixed success. One of these involves changing children's diets. With some children eliminating sugar from the diet makes a major difference. With others there is no change whatsoever. Finally, parents need to handle these children differently than the average child. They need more structure at home. Parents need to realize they cannot take them to certain places where being quiet and sitting without moving is important. For example, they do not do well in certain restaurants where these behaviors are important.
Suggestions for parents:
If you suspect your child has ADHD see a psychologist for a complete evaluation. Find out whether your child has this problem, or is anxious or depressed.
Follow up with recommendations given to you for possible medication, or educational therapy.
If you are not effective in controlling your child's behavior talk to the counselor about ways you can change the situation at home.