Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects a person's ability to focus, remain physically still, and think before reacting. It affects about 5-10% of people worldwide and can range from mild to severe. However, it is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, which can lead to confusion and harmful decisions. As a parent, it's important to understand what ADHD is, how it can be diagnosed, and how it can be treated.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a condition that affects attention and behavior. People with ADHD may have difficulty controlling their impulses, focusing, or being still. While many people have some of the symptoms, to be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must have a certain number, frequency, severity, and persistence of symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.
What are the Symptoms of ADHD?
The symptoms of ADHD can be divided into three categories: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. These symptoms can present in different ways and to different degrees, depending on the person's age and subtype of ADHD.
Inattentive symptoms can include difficulty controlling attention, finishing tasks, losing homework, being very sensitive to noises, tastes, or other sensations, under-achieving, and failing to complete homework. Hyperactive symptoms can include trouble sleeping, fidgeting, moving without purpose, talking constantly, and trouble sitting still. Impulsive symptoms can include temper outbursts, accidental injuries, interrupting, trouble maintaining friendships, an inability to delay gratification, and "no filter" in conversation.
It's important to note that these symptoms must be present for at least six months and in at least two different settings. In addition, they must cause functional impairment (i.e. social, academic, or occupational problems that impact daily life) and not be attributable to other factors such as substance use or mood disorders.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
A trained professional can diagnose ADHD by observing behavior and analyzing questionnaires completed by long-term observers, often parents or teachers. Psychoeducational testing can also be helpful for diagnosis. Although physicians sometimes diagnose ADHD by observing a patient and speaking with family members, this is generally considered insufficient for formal diagnosis and should not be the sole basis for treatment.
It's also important to note that ADHD can be diagnosed in both children and adults. While ADHD has long been considered a disorder of childhood, recent data suggests that roughly one-third of children with ADHD continue to meet diagnostic criteria through adulthood, while around 65% still experience significant symptoms.
What Should Parents Know?
It's important for parents to remember that different does not mean inferior, and society benefits from neurological diversity. While ADHD can present challenges for children, it's important to support them without medicalizing their personality or development. Additionally, parents should be aware that there is growing concern that girls are being underdiagnosed and thus undertreated for ADHD. Finally, parents should also be aware of the correlation between ADHD and eating disorders in young people with ADHD, especially in situations where medication is being considered.
In conclusion, ADHD is a common condition that can affect people of all ages. By understanding the symptoms of ADHD, how it can be diagnosed, and how it can be treated, parents can help their children reach their full potential.