Your son is not paying attention in class. His grades have been getting worse and you notice other changes as well–he is moody and irritable, can’t seem to stick to a schedule, and is missing deadlines. You’ve spoken with your school psychologist and she thinks your son may have ADHD. But, what is ADHD, exactly, and how can you tell if your child has it? Where do you go from here?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is one of the most common disorders among children in the US. 9% of children ages 4-17 have an ADHD diagnosis and of those, more than 60% take medication for treatment.
There are three types of ADHD: Inattentive, Hyperactive, and Impulsive.
Inattentive ADHD is most common in teenagers. Symptoms include:
- Poor attention to detail
- Difficulty staying focused in school
- Lack of follow-through in chores or homework, and
- Forgetfulness/frequently losing things like books, binders, and pens
Common symptoms of Hyperactive ADHD are:
- Excessive fidgeting, talking, and movement
- Running or climbing when it is inappropriate to do so
- Inability to sit still in class or at home
- Difficulty playing or working quietly
And for Impulsive ADHD:
- Blurting out answers to questions
- Difficulty waiting in line
- Frequently interrupting conversations
If you are reading this and thinking, this sounds like my child, the next step is to speak with your pediatrician. To see whether your son or daughter has ADHD, your doctor will order a series of tests designed to identify strengths and weaknesses. He or she may also order a brain scan to look for differences in brain activity associated with ADHD.
Once the tests are completed, your doctor will analyze the results and make a diagnosis. If your child has ADHD, your doctor will share this information with you and recommend a treatment plan. The treatment plan will likely include follow-up therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist. It may include medication as well.
For children with ADHD, therapy can help them become better organized, and also help them develop coping mechanisms for dealing with the challenges they face. Medication can be effective in mitigating symptoms throughout the day.
The two main types of medication used for treatment of ADHD are methylphenidate and amphetamine. Both drugs have a long track record, and they are thought to be some of the safest psychiatric medications on the market today.
Still, methylphenidate and amphetamine can cause side effects and they are not right for everyone. The most common side effects are loss of appetite and weight loss, which usually go away after the first few weeks of treatment. If your child experiences side effects that are moderate or severe or that don’t go away, you can work with your doctor to either adjust the dosage for their medication or to switch to another medication that works better for them.
With proper treatment, most children with ADHD have a good prognosis and can expect to see improved performance at school, better self-esteem, and a higher level of social functioning. Without treatment, children with ADHD are at risk of doing poorly in school, which can lead to failure and depression. They are also more likely to engage in potentially dangerous, impulsive behavior, and to abuse drugs and alcohol.
As with other medical conditions, it’s better to go to the doctor sooner rather than later if you suspect that something is wrong. Too often, children go undiagnosed, and young people of color are disproportionately impacted. ADHD occurs in white, black, and Latino youths at similar rates, but it is diagnosed 50-70% less often in youth of color. Once diagnosed, black and Latino youth are also less likely to access treatment.
Disparities in ADHD diagnosis and treatment stem from bias among medical providers and community biases, such as stigma surrounding mental health or the attribution of symptoms to lack of discipline, for example, instead of to ADHD. Negative attitudes and misinformation surrounding medication can form an additional barrier to care.
The changes in your child’s behavior that have you thinking about ADHD could also be the result of another medical condition. So, if you are concerned, don’t wait. Go ahead and make an appointment with your pediatrician. You may be hesitant now but afterward you will almost certainly be glad that you made the call.
Consider other family members as well, including yourself. ADHD tends to run in families and adults can have ADHD too. If you have an adult relative who is experiencing symptoms of ADHD they should also be evaluated.
And if you need assistance finding a doctor, or have additional questions, feel free to contact a BeWell staff member. BeWell staff are trained to provide advice and support on a wide range of topics and they would be happy to help you.