ADHD — Symptoms to Look For and Next Steps

By Ketki Shah, PhD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder typically comprised of deficits in impulsivity, sustained attention, distractibility, and hyperactivity. Although diagnosed in children after age 6, some of the major characteristics of ADHD can be seen in youngsters as early as age 3.

A diagnosis of ADHD requires that a child must show at least 6 symptoms of one type for a period of 6 months, by age 5 or 6, in at least two different setting (i.e., home and school). In addition, the symptoms must be severe/intense enough to interfere with the child’s daily functioning.

The symptoms children can display tend to vary by age. Not all children display all symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms by parents and teachers include: fidgety, squirming, restless, excessive talking, interrupts others, trouble playing quietly, constantly in motion, act as if “driven by a motor”, difficulty listening/following directions, easily distractible (but can hyper focus on a preferred activity like video games), starts many tasks but unable to finish, disorganized, frequently does not have the required materials for a task, does not like to do tasks that require concentrated effort, does homework but forgets to turn it in, and daydreams.

There are three different types of ADHD: Inattentive type (also known as ADD, where children are more likely to be off task, but not disruptive or overactive), Hyperactive/Impulsive type (children are attentive, but hyperactive and impulsive), and Combined type (the most common type, where children show all three major characteristics).

Frequently, individuals affected by ADHD often have other behavior disorders that impact their ability to function successfully (i.e., comorbid behaviors). Comorbid behaviors can also make diagnosing ADHD more difficult and its symptoms, harder to treat. The most common comorbid behaviors are anxiety and depression. Others include, oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, learning disabilities, speech and language difficulties, and sensory integration disorder.

There is no one test that diagnoses ADHD. Pediatricians or psychologists can diagnose it by conducting interviews of parents, teachers, caregivers, and the child; taking the child’s detailed medical history; administering various behavioral checklists; and observing the child. This information is then compared what is known about same-age children without ADHD.

There are many treatments that can be used to manage ADHD. These include: behavioral therapy (including social skills training and parent/family support) and medication. There is no “right way” to treat a child with ADHD, however, the research shows that a combination of behavior therapy and medication tends to be most effective. The best course is to discuss all options with your child’s doctor, psychologist, family, and of course, your child.

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