Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Everyone can have trouble focusing, sitting still or controlling their impulses. But people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder  (ADHD) struggle with these problems every day. Read more to learn how to cope with ADHD.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in North America. The cause of this disorder is thought to be an imbalance in the brain’s chemical messengers that are responsible for attention, impulsivity, memory, motivation, concentration and alertness. People with ADHD therefore have problems in these and other areas. Generally diagnosed in childhood, ADHD sometimes persists in adulthood. The good news is that better treatment and educational tools  mean that more and more people with ADHD can reduce and cope  with their symptoms.

Who can get ADHD?

ADHD is most often diagnosed in school-aged children, with boys getting diagnosed more often than girls at this age. However, girls tend to be diagnosed more as teens and adults. While symptoms generally decrease with age, it is estimated that nearly one third of children will still experience symptoms as adults.

ADHD symptoms

Although attention deficits are generally diagnosed when children are in school, symptoms can often start before this stage or during the child’s development. Problems with attention and hyperactivity don’t appear in the same way in a 5-year-old compared to a 10-year-old or a teen. This difference can make diagnosis more complex. To get a proper diagnosis, you need to consult a doctor who has experience with children who have ADHD.

Since a child’s symptoms can be caused by other conditions or problems, a doctor will have to conduct a full physical exam and psychological evaluation before concluding that the child has ADHD.

You should consult a qualified doctor who specializes in ADHD if your child has one or more of the following symptoms (divided into 3 categories) for more than 6 months and if these symptoms detract from his or her normal development in 2 different areas (e.g., at home and at school).

Hyperactivity symptoms

Children will:

  • Be very restless in most places and situations.
  • Have problems staying seated for an extended period.
  • Squirm in their seats and often move their hands or feet.
  • Talk a lot, even excessively.

Attention deficit symptoms

Children will:

  • Get distracted or lost in thought.
  • Often lose objects or forget assigned instructions for tasks.
  • Have problems concentrating on one thing for a long period and following explanations or instructions.
  • Start a new activity without finishing a first one.
  • Have difficulty getting organized and managing their time and what they need to accomplish.

Symptoms of impulsivity

Children will:

  • Often speak non-stop and interrupt people.
  • Answer a question before someone has finished asking it.
  • Speak up out of turn and have problems waiting their turn.
  • Want attention and be disorganized.

Consequences of ADHD

ADHD has a negative impact on children and their development. Children with ADHD have problems at school and a hard time making friends. This is why it’s important to detect and treat attention deficit disorders as early as possible to reduce the risk that the child will have low self-esteem or develop a psychological disorder such as anxiety or depression. These problems can lead to isolation problems, delinquency or addiction.

You should also know that the intellectual potential of these children is no different or lower than that of other children. Children with ADHD are often very creative and can become highly accomplished adults. Because of their knack of moving from one idea to the next, they can tackle problems in a unique way.

ADHD treatment

ADHD can’t be prevented or cured, but it can be controlled and its impact can be reduced with the right treatment. Since ADHD is often diagnosed once children are in school, parents, teachers and other professionals or people who interact with the child need to participate in the treatment as well. Treatment may include:

  • training for parents
  • strategies to improve the child’s behaviour
  • education programs to help the child in school
  • medication

Non-pharmacological therapies

A number of non-pharmacological therapies can help control ADHD. It’s important to try to eliminate not only the symptoms of the disorder but also all of its repercussions on the child’s life.

A doctor can refer the child to a psychologist to decrease anxiety, symptoms of depression, and low self-esteem. The psychologist can also help the child develop impulse control and better relationships with others. Special camps for children with ADHD can be a rewarding experience and an opportunity for them to overcome their social discomfort.

At school

A good structure at school can help children overcome the obstacles of ADHD. Daily teacher reports can help parents follow their child’s progress and see if treatment strategies are working. Putting the child at the front of the class can help them concentrate and pay attention.

ADHD medication

Note that medication alone is not the key to treating ADHD. Treatment must be combined with medication and psychosocial intervention and treatment.

The medications used most often to treat ADHD are called stimulants . These drugs work directly on the brain’s chemical messengers to increase concentration or reduce impulsivity. Pharmaceutical research on ADHD is constantly ongoing and medication is constantly improving. Many of these drugs are long acting and have the benefit of being effective throughout the day. This means that the child does not have to take a dose at school, and the medication will be out of their system by the time they go to bed.

Below is a list of stimulants currently prescribed for ADHD:

  • Ritalin™, Concerta™, Biphentin™ (long- or short-acting methylphenidate)
  • Adderall XR™, Dexedrine™, Vyvanse™ (amphetamine-based)

Stimulants are effective for most people, but they do have side effects, such as insomnia, loss of appetite, and weight loss. If these side effects become inconvenient for your child or persist, you should talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Two non-stimulants (guanfacine extended-release and atomoxetine) can replace or be used in combination with stimulants. They have different side effects from stimulants and can therefore be a good option for some people.

ADHD can have consequences on a child’s development and learning. However, with the right resources, you can reduce its impact and help children with this disorder thrive and reach their full potential. Since each treatment must be personalized, don’t hesitate to talk to your pharmacist.

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