What is ADD/ADHD?
When many people think of attention deficit disorder, they picture an out-of-control kid in constant motion, bouncing off the walls and disrupting everyone around. But this is not the only possible picture. Some children with ADD/ADHD are hyperactive, while others sit quietly—with their attention miles away. Some put too much focus on a task and have trouble shifting it to something else. Others are only mildly inattentive, but overly impulsive.
The three primary characteristics of ADD/ADHD
Children with ADD/ADHD may be:
▪ Inattentive, but not hyperactive or impulsive.
▪ Hyperactive and impulsive, but able to pay attention.
▪ Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive (the most common form of ADD/ADHD).
Children who only have inattentive symptoms of ADD/ADHD are often overlooked, since they are not disruptive. However, the symptoms of inattention have consequences: getting in hot water with parents and teachers for not following directions; underperforming in school; or clashing with other kids over not playing by the rules.
Is it really ADD/ADHD?
Just because a child has symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity does not mean that he or she has ADD or ADHD. Certain medical conditions, psychological disorders, and stressful life events can cause symptoms that look like ADD/ADHD.
Before an accurate diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can be made, it is important that you see a mental health professional to explore and rule out the following possibilities:
▪ Learning disabilities or problems with reading, writing, motor skills, or language.
▪ Major life events or traumatic experiences (e.g. a recent move, death of a loved one, bullying, divorce).
▪ Psychological disorders including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
▪ Behavioral disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
▪ Medical conditions, including thyroid problems, neurological conditions, epilepsy, and sleep disorders.
Positive effects of ADD/ADHD in children
In addition to the challenges, there are also positive traits associated with people who have attention deficit disorder:
▪ Creativity – Children who have ADD/ADHD can be marvelously creative and imaginative. The child who daydreams and has ten different thoughts at once can become a master problem-solver, a fountain of ideas, or an inventive artist. Children with ADD/ADHD may be easily distracted, but sometimes they notice what others don’t see.
▪ Flexibility – Because children with ADD/ADHD consider a lot of options at once, they don’t become set on one alternative early on and are more open to different ideas.
▪ Enthusiasm and spontaneity – Children with ADD/ADHD are rarely boring! They are interested in a lot of different things and have lively personalities. In short, if they are not exasperating you (and sometimes even when they are), they are a lot of fun.
▪ Energy and drive – When kids with ADD/ADHD are motivated, they work or play hard and strive to succeed. It actually may be difficult to distract them from a task that interests them, especially if the activity is interactive or hands-on.
Keep in mind, too, that ADD/ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence or talent. Many children with ADD/ADHD are intellectually or artistically gifted.
Helping a child with ADD/ADHD
Whether or not your child’s symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are due to ADD/ADHD, they can cause many problems if left untreated. Children who cannot focus and control themselves may struggle in school, get into frequent trouble, and find it hard to get along with others or make friends. These frustrations and difficulties can lead to low self-esteem as well as friction and stress for the whole family.
But treatment can make a dramatic difference in your child’s symptoms. With the right support, your child can get on track for success in all areas of life.
Don’t wait to get help for your child
If your child struggles with symptoms that look like ADD/ADHD, don’t wait to seek professional help. You can treat your child’s symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity without having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.
Options to start with include getting your child into therapy, implementing a better diet and exercise plan, and modifying the home environment to minimize distractions.
If you do receive a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, you can then work with your child’s doctor, therapist, and school to make a personalized treatment plan that meets his or her specific needs. Effective treatment for childhood ADD/ADHD involves behavioral therapy, parent education and training, social support, and assistance at school. Medication may also be used, however, it should never be the sole attention deficit disorder treatment.