More than 6 million children between the ages of 2 and 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). While approximately two-thirds of these children are boys, it’s suspected that many more girls actually have ADHD but go undiagnosed. In total, the numbers we do have represent more than 9% of the population in that age group.
ADHD is a chronic condition that affects focus and makes organization and concentration difficult. It can make learning, as well as developing and maintaining friendships, extremely challenging. This is one reason why it’s so important for parents and adult caregivers to be alert to ADHD signs in children.
Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options will offer you the best path forward in helping your child learn to navigate and manage ADHD. Fortunately, we have all of that information (and more) here for you to review. Read on as we cover everything parents and caregivers should know about children with ADHD.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Children
All children with ADHD are unique, and not everyone will exhibit the same ADHD symptoms. That said, there are several common ADHD signs in children to be aware of. They might include some or all of the following:
- Failing to pay attention to details
- Making careless mistakes in homework
- Seeming to have an inability to focus on tasks or play
- Appearing to not listen, even when spoken to directly
- Having difficulty organizing tasks
- Losing things
- Being easily distracted
- Fidgeting and moving around, even when seated
- Talking too much
- Running around, jumping, and climbing, even when inappropriate
- Finding it hard to wait their turn
Most children will exhibit some or several of these symptoms periodically, even if they don’t have ADHD. After all, they’re kids, and it’s not uncommon for a child to occasionally be riled up, hyper, distracted, or display any other symptoms of ADHD from time to time. However, when these symptoms affect school performance or the ability to form lasting friendships with peers, it’s probably time to investigate what may be going on.
It’s important to point out that if a child’s struggling at school but is able to form strong friendships, OR if they excel at school but struggle to make friends, you might be dealing with something other than ADHD. That said, if anything is interfering with your child’s ability to function daily or interact in healthy ways with peers, they should be evaluated by a mental health professional — even if you don’t suspect ADHD is the cause of their symptoms.
Remember, not every child with ADHD will have the same symptoms. In fact, there are three official types of ADHD. Below, we’ll examine them and the symptoms commonly associated with each.
A child with inattentive ADHD:
- Is easily distracted or has a short attention span
- Makes frequent careless mistakes
- Tends to lose things
- Dislikes tasks that require focus
- Can be disorganized
Alongside the above inattentive symptoms, they also often forget to do daily tasks, like chores or brushing their teeth, and can have trouble finishing assignments like homework or craft projects.
A child with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD:
- Fidgets frequently
- Has trouble sitting still
- Is impatient and has difficulty waiting their turn to speak
- Can seem like they just won’t stop talking
Children with ADHD of the hyperactive or impulsive behavior category also often have trouble playing or working quietly. They tend to interrupt what others are doing, whether that means they cut people off when they’re speaking, or they disrupt others doing an activity.
When a child has ADHD combined type, they exhibit some behavior problems of both inattentive ADHD and hyperactive/impulsive ADHD.
“There are different types of ADHD to help identify how best to help a child struggling. Understanding the specific symptoms of a child’s diagnosis allows you to tailor the best approach in helping them succeed.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
What Causes ADHD in Children?
We don’t know exactly what causes ADHD in children. There’s strong evidence suggesting the likelihood of a genetic link. In addition, the CDC reports that other suspected causes and risk factors for ADHD might include:
- A traumatic brain injury
- Family history
- Alcohol or drug use during pregnancy
- Exposure to environmental toxins (especially lead) during pregnancy or when a child is very young
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
“There’s no known cause for ADHD, but there may be factors that contribute to the development. Some common factors are family history, premature births, and medical issues.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Diagnosing ADHD in Children
Sometimes it can be difficult for parents to know when it’s time to make an appointment with a mental health professional. Part of the challenge can be figuring out if their child’s “symptoms” are simply just part of “being a kid,” or if something more is going on. However, if you suspect your young child needs help, trust that.
Be wary of self-diagnosing your child, though. It can be impossible for someone not trained to ascertain the difference between ADHD, another condition, two conditions occurring at the same time, or nothing at all being wrong. This is why it’s so necessary to seek out professional help if you’re concerned about your child.
The first step you can take is speaking with a primary care physician or pediatrician. At your appointment, your child’s doctor will talk to you about when you first noticed symptoms and what those symptoms are — bringing a list of behaviors to the appointment is a good idea.
They’ll also want to know whether these symptoms are affecting your child’s school performance and/or their enjoyment of life. Expect to be asked for information about your family’s health history, including any mental health issues, and whether there’s been a recent stressful event (such as a big move, a death in the family, or a divorce) that might be the cause of the symptoms you’re noticing.
If symptoms persist, your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health professional (either a psychiatrist or a psychologist) for an ADHD assessment to diagnose ADHD. To receive an official ADHD diagnosis, a child needs to be exhibiting 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness or 6 or more symptoms of inattentiveness. These symptoms also need to have been present more or less continuously for at least 6 months.
Treatment for ADHD in Children
When it comes to how to treat ADHD, the good news is there are several effective treatments for ADHD symptoms in children. These include:
- Medication: This is usually the first line of treatment for ADHD symptoms in children. ADHD medication types that are commonly prescribed include stimulant
sand non-stimulant medication. Occasionally antidepressants might be prescribed to address comorbid anxiety and depression.
- Therapy: Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be very useful in teaching children with ADHD how to curb their impulsiveness. It can also show them coping skills so they can focus and be more productive. Finally, in behavior therapy, children can explore how to act more appropriately in school and other formal settings.
- Combination: The combination of ADHD medication and behavioral therapy for ADHD tends to be the most effective treatment for children with ADHD.
It’s important to note that while some types of medications can be helpful in a majority of cases, not all treatment plans include them. You’ll want to discuss your child’s options in detail with their mental health team before deciding on the appropriate treatment to take. Children with untreated ADHD often have a much harder time at school and at home.
If you’re looking for resources to help your young child, Talkspace is an online therapy platform that offers a unique approach to mental health. Our experienced therapists understand ADHD and are available to work with you and your child. Together, in the comfort of your own home, your child can learn to overcome or manage many of their ADHD symptoms in healthy, productive ways. At the end of the day, ADHD doesn’t have to take over your child’s life. Talkspace can show them how to take that control back.
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