ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder):

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition in which children have difficulties paying attention and focusing on tasks. This common disorder begins in early childhood and can continue into adulthood. If not recognized and treated, it can cause problems at home, school, and work and with relationships.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

The three types of ADHD symptoms are:

Inattention. This is the most common symptom. In addition to having difficulty paying attention, people with this symptom often are unable to consistently focus, remember, and organize. They may be careless and have a hard time starting and completing tasks that are boring, repetitive, or challenging.

Impulsivity. People who frequently act before thinking may not make sound judgments or solve problems well. They may also have trouble developing and maintaining personal relationships. An adult may not keep the same job for long or spend money wisely.

Hyperactivity. A hyperactive child may squirm, fidget, and climb or run when it is not appropriate. These children often have difficulty playing with others. They may talk a great deal and not be able to sit still for even a short time. Teenagers and adults who are hyperactive don't usually have the more obvious physical behaviors seen in children. Rather, they often feel restless and fidgety and are not able to enjoy reading or other quiet activities.

Many children with ADHD have signs of both hyperactivity and attention problems. This is called combined type ADHD. When children have significant problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity and fewer problems with attention, it is called predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD. Some children mainly have problems with inattention and fewer problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is called predominantly inattentive type ADHD.

Symptoms of all types of ADHD can range from mild to severe.
Other conditions, such as learning disabilities, depression, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder, are sometimes mistaken for ADHD. They may also occur along with ADHD, which can make diagnosis of the primary problem difficult.

What causes ADHD?

While the exact cause is not clear, researchers have found that ADHD tends to run in families, so a genetic factor is likely. Ongoing research is focused on identifying genes that cause a person to be susceptible to ADHD.
Studies have also shown a possible link between alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy and ADHD.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD is often diagnosed when a child is 6 to 12 years of age. Children in this age group are most easily diagnosed because symptoms become more noticeable in school. It is more difficult to diagnose ADHD in a child younger than age 6 because the symptoms can also occur periodically during normal development. ADHD can be assessed by a mental health or medical professional.

Working with an ADHD Child

Be a role model

Use the following suggestions to model the behavior you want your child to develop.

  • Set family rules. Have as few family rules as possible, and enforce them consistently. Write down your family's rules and the consequences if those rules are broken. Post these rules in an area that will help remind everyone.
  • Establish daily routines. An action becomes a habit through continual reminders and repetition. For example, brushing teeth eventually becomes a habit after eating when you repeatedly remind the child to do so after every meal. Write down your daily routines and post them where you will see them often. It will help your child if you use colorful pictures, such as a picture of a toothbrush, to identify routines.
  • Have a family calendar. Put family activities on the calendar as well as special occasions. Encourage everyone to refer to the calendar often. Use eye-catching stickers as visual reminders.
  • Have family meetings. Talk about important events that are coming up. Discuss goals for the family and how you as a group plan to reach them.
  • Problem-solve. When you notice a problem, such as your child forgetting to brush his or her teeth before bed, help your child design a routine that will help him or her remember. Even silly routines can be effective in jogging memory. It may help you to use a form for establishing a routine.

Use novel ideas in a consistent fashion

Children with ADHD respond to novelty. They are attracted to new events and sounds, but they are not able to sort through which are most important. You can make the best of this quality by following these suggestions:

  • Use colorful reminders. Put short notes on colorful paper in areas of the home to remind the child about a task. For example, you may place a blue note in your child's study area that says “Stop, slow down, and think.”
  • Make a list of your child's daily responsibilities. Periodically remind your child to look at the list. Have your child check off the items as they are completed. Review the list with your child at the end of the day and praise him or her for accomplishments even if all the tasks were not completed to your standard.
  • Create hands-on learning experiences to help a child with ADHD grasp a concept. For example, when your child is learning about volcanoes, help him or her form a model volcano and label the parts. Talk about why volcanoes erupt and what happens.
  • Use pictures. Since most children with ADHD are visual learners, they learn better when their textbooks have lots of pictures. Teach your child to use the pictures to learn concepts or to associate with important information.
  • Use computers or other aids to do homework or look up information about projects. Some computer learning games can help your child gain skills more effectively than written information. However, limit the amount of time your child spends on computer games.

Concentrate on the present

Use immediate consequences for your child's misbehavior. Your child will learn by repeating actions until they become habits, not from past learning.

  • Start fresh each day. Since your child does not have a solid concept of past or future, allow him or her to start with a clean slate in the morning. Build success one day at a time.
  • Organize. Have your child use a special notebook to list homework assignments, their due dates, and the items he or she needs to do the work, such as library books or art supplies. At night, make a list of items to take to school the next day and things that need to be done before leaving home. Place the list where it will be a convenient reminder the next morning.
  • Break projects down into small steps so your child can see his or her progress.
  • Use a timer. A timer can remind your child when to have tasks completed. This method usually is more successful than nagging and is less frustrating for both of you.
  • Estimate time. Have your child practice estimating the amount of time a chore or homework assignment will take. Time the task and reward your child for his or her efforts. With practice, your child will improve his or her ability to estimate time for assigned work.
  • Check things off. As your child completes a household chore or a sheet of homework, have him or her go over the sheet for completeness and check it off the list.
  • Remind. Don't remind your child about all the things he or she has to do at one time. Tell your child that he or she is to start a particular task in a few minutes. If you have a written schedule for your child, you may ask your child to stop what he or she is doing and go check his or her routine schedule.
  • Stop and look. Have your child practice stopping and looking before leaving home for school or other activities. Teach your child to first scan his or her body, making sure that he or she is dressed appropriately. Then, scan his or her bag or other equipment to make sure that he or she has everything that is needed. Post the stop and look reminder near the door so that it can be seen easily.
  • Praise. Praise your child for his or her daily accomplishments in completing tasks at home. You may use a daily checklist of tasks, including brushing teeth. Have your child check items off as they are done. Review the checklist at the end of the day. Praise your child for his or her efforts, even if the effort did not meet your standard.

Allow movement

Some children with ADHD feel driven to keep some part of their body moving.

  • Let your child fidget, even when you are giving him or her instructions. If you are not sure your child heard or understood you, establish eye contact and get his or her attention first. Then, ask your child to repeat your instructions.
  • Use movement to accomplish tasks. Teach your child to whisper or create mental pictures of words that he or she is trying to memorize for school. Teach your child how to take notes in class to help him actively listen. Let your child underline important information in textbooks when he or she is reading.
  • Allow free time. Allow your child time to actively play and release energy. If a child with ADHD is allowed some time to be active, he or she is more likely to pay attention to tasks.
  • Reward your child for behavior that is appropriate for the situation with a comment or hug. Let your child know that less active behavior is helpful in trying to complete tasks. Some children respond well to earning a portion of their allowance by completing homework assignments.

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