What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

  • ADHD is a very common behavior disorder. Kids with ADHD have difficulty focusing.
  • The symptoms of ADHD hurt a child's ability to function in social settings, at school,and at home

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

  • There are three different types of ADHD: Inattentive type, Hyperactive-Impulsive type,and a Combined type.
    • Kids with the Inattentive type ADHD have trouble paying attention to or staying focused on tasks. The children are disorganized and are easily distracted.
    • Kids with Hyperactive-Impulsive type ADHD have trouble staying seated, are always "on the go," blurt out answers, and talk too much
    • Kids with Combined type ADHD have symptoms and behaviors of both Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

How Is ADHD diagnosed?

  • There is no single test to diagnose ADHD
  • It is normal for all children to be inattentive or hyper at certain times, but kids with ADHD have these symptoms all the time
  • ADHD symptoms are present all the time and happen in different settings, such as home, school, daycare, etc.
  • Most children are diagnosed by their pediatrician, though developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are often involved in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.
  • The pediatrician will do a physical exam, take a thorough medical history, and check the child's vision and hearing. Sometimes bad vision or hearing can make a child seem like he or she has ADHD.
  • The pediatrician usually has parents and teachers fill out checklists about the child's behaviors
  • Doctors consider the possibility that the child may have a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, because some of the symptoms of these can look like ADHD, but they are treated differently
  • Children are often tested for learning disorders, because difficulty learning can sometimes make a child seem like he or she has ADHD
  • To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must exhibit behaviors from one of the three ADHD types before the age of 12 years old
  • The behaviors must be more severe than in children the same age
  • The behaviors must be present for at least 6 months
  • The behaviors must happen in different settings: for example, both in school and at home
  • The behaviors must negatively affect a child's life: for example, it is hard for the child to make friends or to do well in school due to the behaviors

How Is ADHD Treated?

  • There is no cure for ADHD. Children can have ADHD continue into adolescence and adulthood.
  • Treatments focus on improving functioning and reducing symptoms
  • ADHD is generally treated with a combination of medications and behavioral therapies
  • Medication usually works better when a child is also receiving behavioral therapies
  • All children, but especially those with ADHD, do better when they have structure in their lives
    • Children's behavior is often improved when they get enough sleep. Kids should have a set bedtime and wake up at the same time every day.
    • Children like routines. That way, the children know what to expect each day. Consistent rules and an organized environment will help a child focus.
    • Positive reinforcement is very effective. It is better to compliment and make a big deal out of good behavior than to yell at a child for doing something wrong.
  • Children with ADHD might qualify for special services in school through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a behavior plan (504 plan)
    • It is VERY important for parents and teachers to communicate clearly about the child's behaviors and school performance

Jennifer E. Wolford, DO, MPH, FAAP
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Rachel P. Berger, MD, MPH
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Adelaide L. Eichman, MD
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,
Division of Child Advocacy

Content Sources:
KidsHealth, "What Is ADHD?": www.kidshealth.org
National Institute of Mental Health. "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).": www.nimh.nih.gov
Stein, M. T., and J. M. Perrin. 2003. "Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD in School-age Children in Primary Care Settings: A Synopsis of the AAP Practice Guidelines." Pediatrics in Review 24(3): 92-98.

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