What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and it is a medical condition that affects children and teenagers but can last well into adulthood. A person with ADHD has differences in brain development that affects how they pay attention, sit still, and in general, control their behaviour.
You may have noticed that your child is very restless, is here one second and gone the next, and has a hard time following directions. Their teachers may have complained that they are not focused in class; either that they are absent-minded or that they are too active and can’t sit still; or that they are too impatient to wait their turn.
These are flag warnings of ADHD quite alright, but before you worry, it’s important to mention that this is also behaviour that is typical of healthy, developing children. So, how can you tell if your child is simply being a child, going through a phase, or exhibiting early signs of a serious mental condition?
Attention, proper self-conduct, self-control, and activity are all habits that children will develop as they grow. With help from parents and teachers, they will grow into respectable citizens. But some children do not get better, and when these issues begin to cause problems at home, school, and even with friends, it might be as a result of ADHD.
Most of the time, it’s impossible to tell until it’s too late but you can beat that. All you have to do is read on, and find out exactly what ADHD is and what it entails.
What Does Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Mean, Really?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not a new disease. It is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. ADHD begins in childhood and can last into adulthood. The disorder is more likely to affect boys than girls and can be easily spotted during early school years when a child begins to have difficulty paying attention.
ADHD cannot be prevented or cured. It is one of those diseases that will happen if it will happen. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, your child can live a normal life.
Symptoms of ADHD
Symptoms of ADHD in children are grouped into three:
- Inattentive. Inattentive children are easily distracted, can’t focus their attention on a single item or task for long, and lose concentration easily. They may not listen well to or follow directions, miss out important details, and often do not finish what they start. Also, they can be caught daydreaming a lot or dawdling and are known to be forgetful and absent-minded. They may make careless mistakes and lose their belongings.
- Hyperactive. A hyperactive child with ADHD often squirms, wriggles, twitches when sitting, and sometimes have difficulty sitting. They get bored easily and are known to disrupt other people, without meaning to do so. They do not play quietly and are always on the move. In older children and teenagers, this can be described as restlessness. They are always talking, and are known to blurt out answers whether or not they were asked. They cannot seem to wait their turn – they want what they want and they want it now.
- Impulsive. True to its name, children with impulsive symptoms of ADHD act too quickly and often before thinking. Children who have ADHD would interrupt, shove, push or grab, and find it hard to wait their turn. They may do things without taking proper permission, take things that aren’t theirs, or even act in ways that are harmful to themselves and others. They may react in ways that seem too intense or overboard for certain situations.
Some experts mention a fourth type, where a child manifests a combination of some or all of the symptoms listed above.
How ADHD in adults look like
ADHD also affects adult as a result of spillover from childhood. Their signs and symptoms change and may look something like this:
- Forgetting things and events
- Always late, and never on time
- Problems at work
- Low self-confidence or esteem
- Anger issues
- Substance abuse
- Trouble with organization
- Depression and mood swings
- Inability to concentrate while reading
- Easily frustrated
- Usually bored
Causes of ADHD
Causes of ADHD are:
- Genes. It tends to run in families.
- Neurochemicals. Brain chemicals that control behaviour may be out of balance in people with ADHD.
- Brain changes. Areas of the brain that control behaviour and attention are less active in ADHD patients.
- Malnutrition, low birth weight, premature delivery, infections, substance abuse during pregnancy, smoking and drinking are prominent risk factors that can cause ADHD. These things and many more like them can affect a baby’s brain development.
Excess screen time, absent or low parenting or eating too much sugar do not cause ADHD. It can improve when children get the treatment they need, eat healthy food, get adequate sleep for their age, exercise, and have supportive parents who know how to respond to ADHD.
As a Parent, How Should You Respond to ADHD?
If your child displays these symptoms and there’s a history of similar behaviour in your immediate or extended family, it is a good idea to have them checked. Make an appointment with the child’s doctor, who may then refer you to a child psychotherapist, psychologist or psychiatrist if needed.
There’s no one test to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The doctor would start by asking questions about the health, behaviour and activity of the child. The doctor would talk to the parents and child about the signs and symptoms that have been noticed and for how long.
They’ll also want to establish that the child’s behaviour isn’t as a result of other health challenges or environmental factors. The doctor would then diagnose ADHD if evidence shows that
- The child’s hyperactivity and impulsivity go beyond what is normal for their age.
- The behaviour has grown with the child instead of abating.
- The child is distracted at home and in school.
- A health check to be sure there isn’t an underlying health issue causing the problems. This is very important, as many children with ADHD also have other learning disorders. The good news is that both can be treated simultaneously.
Now that you have a diagnosis, let’s talk treatment.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Treatment is usually by medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
Medications called stimulants can help curb hyperactive and impulsive behaviour and improve attention span. These may not work for everyone, and some children would be better off with non-stimulant medication.
Therapy includes creating structure and routine for the child, behaviour changes and counselling. Also, a special learning session for the child is useful to give the child’s education a boost.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in toddlers may present with different symptoms per child. It is better to see a doctor to gain clarity.
ADHD is manageable, it’s not a death sentence. All your child needs are help, knowledge and lots of love from you.