ADHD in Children

A guide for parents & caregivers on ADHD.

What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

A chronic medical condition affecting millions of children and often persisting into adulthood, ADHD is also known as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD features persistent issues, including difficulty with maintaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

A child with ADHD may also struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and poor academic performance. Over time, the symptoms may diminish. In some cases, ADHD can persist in adulthood — but they can learn strategies to succeed.

What you need to know

ADHD is characterized by inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Many children with ADHD start experiencing symptoms before the age of 12, and in some cases, as early as 3 years of age. Symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe, and they may continue into adulthood.

There is no clear cause for ADHD; however, research is ongoing. ADHD may be caused by genetic variations, the environment, or problems with the central nervous system at key developmental times. There are three categories of ADHD:

  • Inattentive: The majority of symptoms fall under inattention.

  • Hyperactive & Impulsive: The majority of symptoms are hyperactive and impulsive.

  • Combined: The symptoms include hyperactive/impulsive symptoms as well as inattentive symptoms.

ADHD shouldn't be diagnosed in children unless the core symptoms of ADHD present early in life - before age 12 - and cause significant problems at home and at school. ADHD cannot be diagnosed with a specific test, but a diagnosis may involve the following.

  • Medical Exam: Consultation with your Pediatrician to help rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

  • Information Gathering: Documentation of current medical issues, personal and family medical history, and school records.

  • ADHD Rating Scales: Assessments to help collect and evaluate information about your child.

  • Interviews or Questionnaires: Feedback from family members, your child's teachers, or other people who know your child well (e.g., childcare providers, coaches, etc.).

How you can help

Consult your pediatrician or family doctor if you are concerned that your child has signs of ADHD in order to rule out other possible causes. Below are some possible ways to reduce your child's risk for ADHD.

  • Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, avoid anything that may harm the fetus — e.g., avoid drinking alcohol, using drugs, or smoking cigarettes.

  • Environmental Exposures: Limit your child’s exposure to pollutants and toxins, including lead paint and cigarette smoke.

  • Screen Time: While there isn’t definitive evidence, it may be wise to avoid excessive exposure to TV and video games in children younger than age 5.

If your child is undergoing treatment for ADHD, they should continue to see the doctor until there is a significant improvement in their symptoms. The best outcomes occur when a team-based approach is used, with parents, physicians, therapists, teachers, and child care providers working together.

When to contact your doctor

If your child is being treated for ADHD, call your doctor if they experience any medication adverse effects, e.g., trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, or increased irritability, or if your child's ADHD symptoms do not improve with initial treatment.

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