Does your child lack focus, motivation, and attention? Do they often forget things, places, and people? Are they struggling to keep up with school? If you answered yes, your child might have ADHD.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders. Over 6 million children between the ages of 2 and 17 have an ADHD diagnosis. If left untreated, it can progress into adulthood and impact their quality of life.
Are you wondering, “does my child have ADHD”? Read on to learn about this disorder, including common symptoms and treatments.
ADHD is part of a family of cognitive disorders that affect the abilities required for daily living. These abilities are often grouped together and called executive functioning skills.
Executive functioning skills include abilities like:
While humans aren’t born with these skills, we develop them in childhood to prepare us for adulthood. A child with ADHD might not reach the same developmental milestones. They may then struggle in adolescence and require more intensive help.
When a child has ADHD, they will likely struggle with executive dysfunction. But how will this affect their life?
Problems they might face at school:
Relationships can be difficult in the following ways:
The importance of executive functioning skills spans every aspect of life. As a child grows older, they need these essential abilities for university, careers, and adult relationships. Children with diagnoses ADHD can develop these skills, but they need some help to do so.
The DSM-5, a clinical guide to mental health disorders, divides ADHD into three categories.
The most common type for children is combined ADHD. It’s characterized by both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Children with combined ADHD have difficulties with both paying attention and keeping still.
Hyperactive/impulse type is the least common of the ADHD categories. Children usually have strong attention spans, working memory, and emotional regulation. They often struggle with staying still, avoiding distractions, and impulse control.
The inattentive type is the least common of the three. Children with this subtype can usually sit still and control their impulses. They struggle the most with focus, following directions, and working memory.
Symptoms for each ADHD type can vary from child to child. Although two children may have the same type, their symptoms might manifest differently. It’s especially true for boys and girls.
There are many signs of ADHD specific to children. Remember that only a mental health professional can diagnose your child. But if you have a feeling your child might have ADHD, compare their behavior to the following symptoms.
This type of ADHD is all about action and control. Common symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD include:
Usually, at least six symptoms are needed for a hyperactivity/impulsivity diagnosis.
As the name suggests, children with this subtype struggle with maintaining attention. Some common signs include:
Your child will need to show at least six symptoms to receive an inattentive ADHD diagnosis.
If your child shows six or more symptoms in both categories, they’ll receive a combined diagnosis.
It’s essential to remember that many of these signs can be typical children’s behaviors. Running around, talking too much, and having a short attention span doesn’t necessarily mean they have ADHD. They might just be kids being kids.
For a child to be officially diagnosed with ADHD, the signs need to be significant. Symptoms must seriously impact their school or home life.
But if you see more than a few of these signs in your child’s behavior, take our ADHD Quiz! It will be a helpful tool in deciding whether to bring your child in for a professional evaluation.
Science hasn’t yet found the specific cause of ADHD, but as the research grows, we gather more clues. Researchers have identified several risk factors for developing it, including:
Several twin and adoption studies, as well as brain studies, have linked specific genes to ADHD. It’s possible that this disorder may be genetic or dependent on brain structure.
Environmental factors have long been viewed as one of the most common causes of ADHD. Some external factors that can increase the risk of developing ADHD include:
Another risk factor, brain injury, is one of the least common causes of ADHD. But it can happen. One study found that 62% of children treated for a traumatic brain injury developed ADHD.
Finally, gender plays a crucial role in ADHD diagnosis. Boys are much more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls. In a 2016 national survey, the CDC found that 12.9% of boys and 5.6% of girls have ADHD.
A long-suspected reason for this discrepancy is how society views gender. Girls who struggle with ADHD might be described as dreamy, sensitive, or immature. Teachers and parents tend to be more accepting of their symptoms, so girls have a tougher time getting a diagnosis.
Boys, on the other hand, show more obvious signs of ADHD. Parents and teachers quickly notice the symptoms because they are expressed outwardly. Acting out, being rude and impatient, and having too much energy are easy to spot signs.
These differences might explain why boys often receive a diagnosis at a younger age. Surveys show that boys are usually diagnosed around seven years old and girls at around twelve years old.
But even more commonly, girls don’t get a diagnosis at all. Research shows that over 75% of girls with inattention type ADHD aren’t even diagnosed!
There’s no single test to definitively diagnose ADHD in children. Doctors combined a variety of methods to judge whether your child has ADHD.
Your health care professional will usually begin by performing various physical tests. This is to ensure that the symptoms aren’t caused by an underlying health issue.
Behavior observations and ADHD rating scales, similar to our ADHD Quiz, will follow. Your doctor might watch how your child plays and interacts with their environment. They might also do some computerized tests which can resemble puzzle games.
Based on these methods, as well as the severity of their symptoms, your child might get a diagnosis. But ADHD often co-exists with other disorders, so getting diagnosed might take some time.
ADHD has long been considered just that, a mental health disorder. In recent years, vocabulary surrounding neurodevelopmental disorders has begun to change.
Many people now prefer to think of children with ADHD as neurodivergent. It takes away the negative connotation of a disorder diagnosis. But what is neurodivergent?
Neurodiversity views conditions like ADHD and autism as simple brain differences. It removes the stigma of being “deficient” in something or having a “disorder”. Instead, neurodiversity celebrates the unique strengths that children with ADHD might have.
Children diagnosed with ADHD, autism, or learning disabilities have their own thought patterns. Their brains function differently than those of neurotypical children. Neurotypical people think and function in socially acceptable ways.
The benefits of using neurodivergent rather than referring to a disorder include:
A growing number of professionals now believe that neurodiversity can be beneficial! Neurodiverse people tend to be highly creative. They think and see things differently, which means they can problem-solve in unique ways.
The way you manage your child’s ADHD symptoms is a personal choice. Some parents choose to combine medication, benefits of therapy, and skills training. Others decide to let their children flourish in neurodiversity naturally.
Only you and your doctor can make the right decision for your child. The treatment plan will take into consideration:
There are many treatment options to consider. Many parents choose a combination of some of the following.
Psychostimulants are the preferred medication choice for ADHD. You may know these by their brand names as Ritalin, Adderall, or Concerta. They’re commonly used for children and have a high-efficiency rate.
These medications work by increasing the brain chemicals needed for thinking and attention. Children who take psychostimulants can see a rise in focus, motivation, and attention span. They’ll be able to find improvements in their schoolwork and general daily life.
But all medications have side effects, and it’s vital to be aware of them. Psychostimulants can potentially result in these side effects:
These side effects can be annoying and unenjoyable. But if the dosage is carefully monitored by your doctor, they will be minimal.
The CDC actually recommends therapy as the first intervention for young children. Before putting your child on medication, they recommend parent training in behavior management.
Parents training in behavior management is a specialized therapy type. Parents learn the tools and skills they need for better child behavior control. Teachers can also attend courses to learn these tools and use them in the classroom.
For children older than six years old, the best course of action is medication and therapy. Behavior therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) usually work well for children.
Behavior therapy aims to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors. Young children can attend sessions with their parents or in group therapy. As children get older, they might start doing solo sessions with their therapist.
Cognitive-behavior therapy focuses on changing negative thought patterns. The therapist can help your child identify, analyze, and understand their emotions and ideas. They can also teach them positive self-help and coping strategies, which will help with emotional regulation.
This type of treatment focuses on developing those essential executive functioning skills. Parents help their children train these abilities by providing a framework for living.
Examples might include:
The key to finding the best treatment for your child is experimenting and seeing what works best.
If you’ve finished this article and are still wondering, “does my child have ADHD”, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Early diagnosis means early interventions. Setting your child up for success right from the start gives them a better advantage!
Are you ready to start your child’s ADHD diagnosis and treatment journey? Contact us today! We offer evidence-based mental health treatment in Orange County, California. Our mental health professionals are here to provide a welcoming, safe space for you and your child!