Fidgeting, forgetful, unable to focus. Could it be ADHD?
5 MINUTE READ
Whether you or your child is persistently moving or continually distracted, finding out if ADHD is the reason can bring new hope. Learn how the right care can change lives.
Your son keeps losing his homework. His teacher says that he talks too much and isn’t getting along with other students. And you’re constantly asking him to just be still. Does this sound familiar? If so, it could be a sign of a medical condition: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Frequently the punchline of jokes about short attention spans, ADHD is often misunderstood and stigmatized. First, let’s settle some of the myths here:
- ADHD is not an invented term to rationalize childlike behavior or horseplay.
- It’s not a condition found only in children.
- It’s not just about not having too much energy.
- It’s not brought on by playing video games or eating a lot of sugar.
ADHD is a complex, hereditary neurodevelopmental issue that affects many important brain functions including attention, memory, learning, hyperactivity and social skills. It usually appears in children early in life, sometimes as young as age 2. The most common age for diagnosis is 7 years. It is not unusual, however, for a person to be diagnosed much later as a teen or adult.
“ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders in childhood, affecting about seven percent of New Jersey’s children and 11 percent of children in the U.S.,” says Dr. Jeffrey Aronowitz, a psychiatrist and medical director for behavioral health at Horizon. “But there’s so much we can do to help these children — and adults too.”
With careful, personalized management, those with ADHD can learn ways to lessen its impact and lead a full life.
Diagnosing ADHD in children
Not every child who squirms in their seat or daydreams has this condition. Talk to your pediatrician first. He or she can connect you to a child psychiatrist or trained ADHD specialist to provide a complete assessment and diagnosis. There is no single test for ADHD, and besides talking to you and your child, your pediatrician may also gather input from family members and teachers.
One more reason to get a thorough evaluation: About six in ten children with ADHD are also diagnosed with at least one other mental or emotional health disorder, from behavior disorders to anxiety and depression. It’s also possible that your child doesn’t have ADHD at all, but could have another condition altogether.
Boys are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, but new studies are showing that may be due to a difference in their symptoms. Boys tend to demonstrate behavior that gets attention while girls tend to display fewer behavioral problems and may be underdiagnosed — and thus go untreated. Though all symptoms vary from person to person, ADHD is divided into three types:
1. Hyperactive-impulsive. Generally more common in boys, this type is what most people think of when they hear ADHD. Symptoms include:
- Fidgeting or squirming
- Difficulty staying seated
- Excessive running
- Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
- Talking excessively and/or interrupting others
- Difficulty with waiting or taking turns
2. Inattentive. This type, originally referred to by the outdated term ADD or attention deficit disorder, is more common in girls. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Appearing not to listen
- Problems with organization
- Forgetfulness/losing things
3) Combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. This is the most common form of ADHD overall.
Managing ADHD starts with personalized treatment
While there is no cure, the good news is that treatment for ADHD has evolved over the years and options are better than ever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavioral therapy and medication, preferably together, for children 6 years old and up. That said, treatment is as individual as each person. That’s why working closely with your specialist is so important.
A behavioral therapist can help kids learn coping skills such as how to stay organized or play with others. Parents also learn how to create a supportive home environment and how to best interact with their children to help change problem behaviors.
Because ADHD involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, medication can often have a significant impact. “With current medications, patients can see an effect right away,” says Dr. Aronowitz, who works with both children and adults.
ADHD medications do require expert monitoring and follow-up by your specialist to make sure the particular drug and dosing are right for your growing child’s needs. For example, the doctor will want to ensure your child is gaining the appropriate weight and sleeping well.
It’s all in the family — and your larger support network
The support and guidance of loved ones are instrumental in helping children cope with their ADHD symptoms. Working together with health care providers, teachers and other people in your child’s life can make all the difference in helping them reach their potential.
Three helpful tips:
- Get organized. Help your child keep track of things in the same place, for example, a dedicated folder for homework. Consistency and routine can help kids know what to expect each day and give them important and lifelong organizational skills.
- Stay on track with your child’s care. Be sure not to miss any appointments. Checking on your child’s progress is important. Make sure your child takes medicine as prescribed and let the doctor know of any issues that cause concerns.
- Advocate for your child. Work with teachers as close allies. Communicate often and ask about services or accommodations to help your child succeed.
It’s never too late to address ADHD
Because ADHD is highly genetic, parents may recognize it in their own lives or in their family once their children are diagnosed. While some outward symptoms like hyperactivity may diminish with age, ADHD usually lasts throughout life and may continue to impact daily life and relationships. If you’re an adult who thinks you may have ADHD or need additional support, talk to your doctor about treatment options that can open doors to a new way of living.
Horizon recognizes the importance of whole health — which means helping our members access quality, affordable care to achieve their best health in both mind and body. To find a behavioral health specialist or more information about ADHD, visit Horizon Behavioral Health.