Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioral issue that is more prevalent in boys than girls. It is typically identified in early childhood or occasionally later in teenage years or early adulthood. Children with ADHD may appear distracted, often mistaken for a personality trait rather than a behavioral disorder, which can impact their academic and social interactions in various settings. In this article, we delve into why kids with constant distraction might have ADHD and stress the importance of timely intervention to help them handle it better.
What are the symptoms and types of ADHD?
While it's common for toddlers and young children to display signs of distractibility or difficulty sitting still, not all of them have ADHD. The key factor indicating ADHD is the persistence of these symptoms for at least 6 months, significantly affecting their performance in settings like home and/or school.
ADHD symptoms can be categorized into two main types: inattentive type and hyperactive/impulsive type.
Inattentive type symptoms:
- Poor listener, even if there is no distraction
- Similar, careless mistakes made multiple times
- Forgetful in routine chores such as brushing teeth, ironing clothes, etc.
- Unable to have sustained attention in any task, even the most enjoyable ones
- Unable to follow instructions
- Unable to complete tasks
Hyperactive/impulsive type symptoms:
- Unable to sit in one place, e.g., during a class
- Often fidgets with hands and fingers
- Often talks excessively and blurts out answers before a question is complete
- Often interrupts other conversations or games
- Unable to stand patiently in a line
- Often runs around or climbs when it is not expected
If your child has enough symptoms of both the inattentive type and hyperactive/impulsive type, then they might have a combined type of ADHD. It's important to identify the type of ADHD as soon as possible, as it influences how your child's condition is managed.
Additionally, there are other health problems such as depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, learning disability, autism, and other behavioral disorders that can have similar symptoms. Therefore, make sure to consult your medical provider before diagnosing your child with ADHD.
How to know if my child has ADHD?
The diagnosis of ADHD is usually made by a healthcare provider trained in taking care of children, such as a pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist, with the help of parents and teachers. They usually ask questions to gauge the child's symptoms or hand over questionnaires before your clinic appointment. One commonly used is the Vanderbilt Assessment Scales developed by the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As many school teachers cannot make it to doctor’s appointments, a similar questionnaire is handed to parents so that they can distribute it to their child's teacher to fill out at a later date. ADHD diagnosis requires a child's symptoms to be persistent for more than 6 months in at least two or more settings such as home, school, friends' home, or other social settings.
In 2013, The American Psychiatry Association updated its diagnostic criteria for ADHD in children and adults, which can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This classification takes into account the survey questionnaire and helps your healthcare provider diagnose ADHD. As mentioned earlier, other conditions can present similar symptoms of ADHD, so consulting a medical provider is advised.
How to manage ADHD in children
Effectively managing ADHD in children involves a tailored and comprehensive strategy that acknowledges each child's unique challenges and strengths. ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all condition, and successful management often requires a combination of targeted approaches. Here are key methods that may prove useful in better managing your child's ADHD:
The first line of treatment for ADHD is behavioral therapy, especially in children between the ages of 4–6. Your child’s primary care provider can provide you with resources to meet a therapist.
As this is a long-standing condition wherein parents and family members of children with ADHD tend to be affected socially and emotionally, parent training in behavioral management is encouraged. Once your child is enrolled in behavioral therapy, follow-up questionnaires are filled out at routine intervals to assess whether these therapies are helping your child or not.
Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines have been shown to help with ADHD symptoms, especially in children above 6 years of age. It sounds counterintuitive to give stimulant medication to treat your child’s ADHD; however, stimulant medications increase dopamine levels in the brain and, in turn, improve the ability to focus and reduce hyperactivity in a child with ADHD. These medications are usually given in the morning before going to school.
Some of the side effects of these medications include:
- Decreased appetite that may also lead to decreased weight gain
- Behavioral changes, especially in younger children (younger than 6 years of age)
- Sleep disturbance, especially if taken closer to bedtime
- Increase in blood pressure and heart rate
- Rebound hyperactivity in the evening (once its effect wears off)
As always, discuss potential medication usage with a healthcare provider. A dedicated specialist can adjust the dose of the medication or may even switch to a non-stimulant medication depending on its effect and side effects.
Studies have shown that combining behavioral therapy with medications has a positive effect on a child’s ADHD symptoms, especially if they are above 6 years of age. Additionally, children with overlapping features of ADHD and other behavioral disorders benefit the most from combined therapy.
Practical tips to help your child cope with ADHD symptoms
While professional assistance is readily available, parents can also integrate a few daily tips that may prove beneficial. Here are some practical suggestions to help your child cope with their symptoms:
- Promoting effective communication that includes practice speaking slowly, interrupting less when someone is talking, and listening more
- Limiting screen time, as it may lead to a delay in speech development
- Keeping instructions simple and short so the child can follow them easily without creating confusion
- Fostering a positive parent–child relationship to reduce conflicts and promote respectful communication
How to support your child's development
Children with ADHD can often have difficulty maintaining friendships, which can affect their relationships at school and later in life. They may not appear to be amicable with other children in their classroom and are often loners. Even at home, their relationship with siblings, parents, and caregivers can be affected, leading to conflicts and higher stress levels in parents. In terms of their development, speech difficulties and other communications are seen in these children.
A family–school partnership has been shown to help children and their families. Parents may explore special education programs based on school district regulations, with guidance from healthcare providers regarding state laws and eligibility. These options offer specific accommodations for your child, such as extra time for tests, access to teacher's notes, or reduced homework requirements.
Overall, attention deficit hyperactive disorder is seen in 2–10% of children. Children with ADHD can have decreased attention span, be easily distracted, have excessive talkativeness, fidget with hands and fingers, and squirm when seated in a place. This ultimately affects their performance and social relationships at home, school, and other settings. Behavioral therapy and medications may help your child with these symptoms. However, the most important aspect is the timely detection of ADHD.
At what age can a child be diagnosed with ADHD?
Children are usually diagnosed with ADHD between 4–8 years of age. Sometimes if a child has mild symptoms of ADHD, it can go undetected until they face increased academic demands in college.
Does distraction always mean ADHD?
Although distraction can be one of the common symptoms of ADHD, it isn’t uncommon to have children persistently distracted for other reasons like sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, child abuse, or autism. Consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned that your child may have ADHD.
Is ADHD inherited from the parent?
Although there are no clear genetic markers of ADHD, it certainly runs in families. The likelihood of a child having ADHD is higher if their parents have ADHD.
2–10% of the children are diagnosed with ADHD every year, most commonly between 4–8 years of age.
ADHD can manifest as hyperactivity type, inattention type, or a combination of both symptom types.
Other health problems such as depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, learning disability, autism, and other behavioral disorders can have similar symptoms to ADHD.
Behavioral therapy and medications may help control ADHD symptoms in children but do not cure it.
- DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ADHD: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ADHD data and statistics.
- National Institute for Children’s Health Quality. Vanderbilt Assessment Scales.
- Pediatrics. Clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents.
- Pediatrics. A review of the evidence for the medical home for children with special health care needs.
- Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Findings from the NIMH Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD (MTA): implications and applications for primary care providers.