Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is a group of behavioural symptoms which make up a chronic disorder which can seriously impact the lives of the children who are affected by the condition, and their parents.

ADHD is more common in boys and can sometimes even persist into adulthood as children can learn to control their impulsivity with time; however, not everyone can ‘grow out’ of the disorder.

Although it can be easy to label children who seem hyperactive or inattentive with the disorder, it does not necessarily mean they have the condition. These can be individual parts of a child’s personality to some extent. To correctly diagnose ADHD, the child would most likely be having significant problems that are ongoing in more than one setting – namely home and school.

Recently, ADHD has become somewhat of a controversial condition as some people believe it is a label for ordinary or bad childlike behaviour. However as ADHD is a condition which can overlap with normal behaviour or other medical conditions, it is important that diagnoses are only made after a thorough assessment by a skilled and experienced specialist.

Causes of ADHD

ADHD is caused by some problems in early brain development. Many scientists believe that the chemical messengers in the ADHD-affected patient brains do not work properly, and there also appears to be some structural differences within their brain.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of ADHD, but several factors appear to be involved. Genes seem to be an important factor, as patients often have a close family member who also has the disorder. Therefore it’s possible that several genes are involved. Other factors include;

  • The developing foetus being exposed to harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol or drugs
  • A low birth weight
  • A previous head injury or trauma
  • Environmental agents such as high levels of lead

Symptoms of ADHD

As the disorder’s name suggests, children with ADHD will often have problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Some of the condition’s symptoms can be grouped:

Inattention Symptoms;

  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Does not appear to be listening
  • Avoids tasks which seem difficult
  • Becomes easily distracted
  • Unorganised or forgetful
  • Cannot follow instructions or finish work

Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Symptoms;

  • Tends to squirm and fidget
  • Will get up during class or at times they are not supposed to
  • Runs around and climbs in situations that are inappropriate
  • Cannot play quietly
  • Will often interrupt
  • Finds it difficult to wait for their turn
  • Talks excessively or blurts out their answer by interrupting others
  • Appears to be ‘on the go’ often

Sometimes children can have symptoms which are mainly inattention or mainly hyperactive/impulsive, however, most patients will have a mixture of both kinds of symptoms. ADHD symptoms can emerge gradually over a period of many months instead of suddenly.

Diagnosing ADHD

Often it will be either a parent or a teacher who notices that something is wrong but only a professional who has specialised training in diagnosing behavioural disorders will be able to make a conclusive diagnosis. Doctors are often able to refer children to a paediatrician, child psychiatrist, or psychologist for a more thorough assessment.

To diagnose ADHD, the child must have had symptoms that have caused significant problems for the previous six months. Usually, symptoms start before the age of seven years and are often evident in two primary settings, such as home and school. The doctor will also take into account what is appropriate for the child’s developmental level, as pre-schoolers and young children will often have a shorter attention span.

Parents will usually be asked to fill in a questionnaire or a rating scale as part of the diagnostic process, along with the being involved in neuropsychological tests. Although these may feel time-consuming, they are critical in giving a full picture of the child’s current mental state and level of development.

To learn more about ADHD and how you can move forward with ADHD treatments, you can speak to your doctor or a child behavioural specialist for more information.

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