What is ADHD? Facts and Misconceptions (Part 3)

Amanda Luzzader

What to do if you suspect that you or someone you know (e.g., your child) has ADHD.

In this three-part article, we have outlined a variety of facts and misconceptions about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In the first part, we introduced ADHD and outlined the disorder’s definition, signs, and symptoms. As a reminder, ADHD is considered a brain-based disorder that can interfere with a person’s ability to follow instructions, concentrate on tasks, and it can sometimes involve hyperactive and impulsive behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children, and it may persist into adulthood.

In the second part of this article, we introduced and dismissed three of the most common misconceptions about ADHD, which are as follows:

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is not a real disorder. (It is a real disorder, universally recognized by mental health and medical communities.)

Parental treatment causes Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (This is not factual; although possible causes and risk factors have been discovered, none of them involve parenting and medical science is not yet sure exactly what really causes the disorder.)

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is over-diagnosed, and children with ADHD are over-medicated. (ADHD has been shown by medical reviews and studies to be a carefully diagnosed and treated disorder; increased rates of ADHD diagnoses may be due to increased attention and awareness.)

Here in the third and final part of this article, we’ll discuss what to do if you suspect that you or someone you know (e.g., your child) has ADHD.

What should I do if I think my child has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?A quick online search will show many online tools to screen for ADHD. These will often involve subjective, qualitative data input regarding a child’s behavior, frequency of certain behaviors, and apparent effects the behaviors have on the child’s life and wellbeing. These tools can be used as a first step but should not be considered final or authoritative. The same can be said of a parent who carefully considers the common signs and symptoms of ADHD and makes a judgment call about their child. If you’re satisfied that your child may have ADHD, the next move would be either an in-person screening or a formal appointment with a medical provider who specializes in ADHD.

According to WebMD, “There's no single test to diagnose ADHD.” Doctors instead rely on a variety of multifaceted methods to find and diagnose the condition. According to WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, these include the following:

-Interviews with parents, relatives, teachers, or other adults involved in the child’s life-Personally observing the child’s conduct and behavior-Questionnaires or rating scales involving ADHD indicators and symptoms-Administering psychological tests-Applying ADHD criteria and rating scales from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

It’s also important to remember that a doctor will want to rule out other possible causes for the child’s symptoms and behavior, which could include other tests and screening procedures. These causes may include the following:

-Learning or language problems-Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety-Seizure disorders-Vision or hearing problems-Autism spectrum disorder-Medical problems or medications that affect thinking or behavior-Sleep disorders-Brain injury

What are the possible treatments for a child with ADHD?If your child has ADHD, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll need medication. Cases of ADHD should be diagnosed and treated by a care provider who specializes in ADHD. In general, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), treatments fall into the two following categories: (1) behavior therapy and (2) medication.

The CDC reports that “The goals of behavior therapy are to learn or strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate unwanted or problem behaviors.” In other words, just because a child has ADHD, they can be assisted and conditioned to behave in positive and productive ways. Behavior therapy for children with ADHD will often include training for parents. The CDC also says that for children under the age of 6, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavior therapy alone.

For children with ADHD who are age 6 and older, medication may be warranted. While there seems to be a degree of anxiety associated with administering prescription drugs to children, numerous studies show that many children with ADHD respond positively to medication and without deleterious effects. There are several medications approved by the Federal Drug Administration, and they fall into the two types listed below:

  1. Stimulants.Unlike children who do not have ADHD, children who have ADHD respond to stimulants not by becoming more excited, active, or unruly–instead, they become more focused and able to concentrate. The CDC reports: “Stimulants are the best-known and most widely used ADHD medications. Between 70-80% of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking these fast-acting medications.”
  2. Non-stimulants.The CDC reports: Nonstimulants were approved for the treatment of ADHD in 2003. They do not work as quickly as stimulants, but their effect can last up to 24 hours.

As with behavioral therapy for children with ADHD, parents should be well-informed about medications that treat ADHD and be involved in their child’s ongoing treatment.

What about adults with ADHD?Screening, diagnoses, and treatment of adults with ADHD is similar to that of children. Doctors will use many of the same techniques and procedures to develop a diagnosis. Adults may be prescribed the same kinds of medication as those used for treatment of children with ADHD. Treatment of adult ADHD, however, typically involves other treatment dimensions, such as education, marital and family counseling, and psychological and clinical therapy.

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