< Oct. 19, 2011 > -- Children as young as 4 can now be diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The AAP guidelines, released this week, increase the age range for ADHD diagnosis and treatment from ages 6 to 12 to ages 4 to 18.
"We've been able to broaden the scope of the guidelines because there was more evidence available for preschoolers and adolescents," says guidelines author Mark Wolraich, M.D., at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
More than 5 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the CDC. Symptoms of the disorder include inattentiveness, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. Kids with ADHD may be unable to pay attention in class, or may spend a lot of time fidgeting in their seats or talking nonstop. Although most children may display this type of behavior at one time or another, it becomes a problem when it occurs most of the time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The new guidelines emphasize that ADHD is a chronic condition. Although the symptoms can be controlled, the disorder often continues through adolescence and into adulthood.
ADHD may be treated with medications, behavior therapy, or both. The new guidelines recommend behavior treatment over medication for the youngest children. They also offer advice to health care providers on managing inattention or hyperactivity problems that don't quite meet the definition of ADHD.
Unless a child ages 4 to 6 has a serious problem with ADHD symptoms, behavior therapy should be the first treatment tried, the AAP guidelines say. If necessary, medications can be added later.
"Medications should be used very carefully," says Richard Gallagher, M.D., at the Institute for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorders in New York City. But, he adds, "if a child is getting into dangerous situations or presenting with problems interacting appropriately with peers and adults, medications can be very useful."
Dr. Gallagher recommends that parents bring up any concerns they have about their child with their pediatrician. "This is a condition that can be recognized early," he says.
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Doctors have identified three major types of ADHD:
- ADHD, combined type. This is the most common type of ADHD. It is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, as well as inattention and distractibility.
- ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type. This is the least common type of ADHD. It is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors without inattention and distractibility.
- ADHD, inattentive and distractible type. This type of ADHD is characterized by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.