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ADHD, also called attention-deficit disorder, is a behavior disorder, usually first diagnosed in childhood, that is characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity. These symptoms usually occur together, however, one may occur without the other(s).
The symptoms of hyperactivity, when present, are almost always apparent by the age of 7 and may be apparent in very young preschoolers. Inattention or attention-deficit may not be evident until a child faces the expectations of elementary school.
Three major types of ADHD include the following:
ADHD is one of the most researched areas in child and adolescent mental health. However, the precise cause of the disorder is still unknown. Available evidence suggests that ADHD is genetic. It is a brain-based biological disorder. Low levels of dopamine (a brain chemical), which is a neurotransmitter (a type of brain chemical), are found in children with ADHD. Brain imaging studies using PET scanners (positron emission tomography; a form of brain imaging that makes it possible to observe the human brain at work) show that brain metabolism in children with ADHD is lower in the areas of the brain that control attention, social judgment, and movement.
Estimates suggest that between 3 to 5 percent of all children have ADHD. Boys are two to three times more likely to have ADHD than girls.
Many parents of children with ADHD experienced symptoms of ADHD when they were younger. ADHD is commonly found in brothers and sisters within the same family. Most families seek help when their child's symptoms begin to interfere with learning and adjustment to the expectations of school and age-appropriate activities.
Most symptoms seen in children with ADHD also occur at times in children without this disorder. However, in children with ADHD, these symptoms occur more frequently and interfere with learning, school adjustment, and, sometimes, with the child's relationships with others.
The following are the most common symptoms of ADHD. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. The three categories of symptoms of ADHD include the following:
The symptoms of ADHD may resemble other medical conditions or behavior problems. Furthermore, many of these symptoms may occur in children and teens who do not have ADHD. A key element in diagnosis is that the symptoms must significantly impair adaptive functioning in both home and school environments. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavior disorder of childhood. A pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or a qualified mental health professional usually identifies ADHD in children. A detailed history of the child's behavior from parents and teachers, observations of the child's behavior, and psychoeducational testing contribute to making the diagnosis of ADHD. Further, because ADHD is a group of symptoms, often diagnosis depends on evaluating results from several different types of evaluations, including physical, neurological, and psychological. Certain tests may be used to rule out other conditions, and some may be used to test intelligence and certain skill sets. Consult your child's physician for more information.
Specific treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Major components of treatment for children with ADHD include parental support and education in behavioral training, appropriate school placement, and medication. Treatment with a psychostimulant is highly effective in 75 to 90 percent of children with ADHD.
Treatment may include:
Most side effects of stimulant use are mild, decrease with regular use, and respond to dose changes. Always discuss potential side effects with your child's physician.
Antidepressant medications may also be administered for children and adolescents with ADHD to help improve attention while decreasing aggression, anxiety, and/or depression.
Teachers may also be taught behavior management skills to use in the classroom setting. Training for teachers usually includes use of daily behavior reports that communicate in-school behaviors to parents.
Behavior management techniques tend to improve targeted behaviors (such as completing school work or keeping the child's hands to himself/herself), but are not usually helpful in reducing overall inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.
Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of ADHD in children are not known at this time. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, decrease the interference of behavioral symptoms on school functioning, enhance the child's normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life experienced by children or adolescents with ADHD.
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