Whether they’re chasing each other around the house, coloring on the walls, or laughing at the most recent YouTube sensation, children seem to always be running a mile a minute.
It’s not uncommon for children to be overly active or to sometimes have trouble paying attention. But if these behaviors cause problems in school, at home, or in social situations, there may be something else going on.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common disorders affecting children. Common symptoms include:
- Inattention: not being able to focus
- Hyperactivity: abnormally active behavior, often to the point where it is disruptive to people around your child
- Impulsivity: acting in the moment, without thinking
Because these symptoms are often associated with “kids just being kids,” ADHD can be misunderstood. But remember — if your child has ADHD, it’s not that they are lazy, stubborn, or unwilling to listen and follow directions. Their brain is wired in a way that makes this more difficult for them.
In other words: ADHD is a diagnosable medical condition.
- While it’s more common for boys to have ADHD, girls can have it, too. Because girls tend to have inattentiveness rather than the more noticeable hyperactivity, they are less likely to be properly diagnosed.
- Children with ADHD don’t always have a hard time focusing. They can also “hyperfocus,” and spend hours on a single task or activity.
- ADHD often lasts into adulthood. About ⅔ of adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as children still have symptoms as adults. However, symptoms can change over time.
- It’s estimated that 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults live with ADHD.
- There’s no known cause of ADHD, but genetics may be involved — ADHD tends to run in families.
5 Fast Facts About ADHD
Finding out your child has ADHD can leave you feeling confused or concerned about your child’s future. But take a few deep breaths — with proper management and care, children with ADHD can still lead happy and successful lives.
How Do I Know If My Child Has ADHD?
Before first setting foot in their kindergarten classroom, many children don’t have experience being asked to sit at a desk quietly and complete their assigned work. It’s normal for these new experiences to be challenging, or for them to have trouble focusing or behaving every so often.
But in children with ADHD, this is more noticeable and disruptive — and it’s usually not something they will grow out of in a matter of months.
ADHD is usually first diagnosed in children when symptoms cause disruptions in school or problems with assignments or homework.
Signs of ADHD include:
- Frequent daydreaming
- Forgetfulness or losing things often
- Squirming or fidgeting
- Talking too much or talking over people
- Making careless mistakes or taking risks unnecessarily
- Having trouble resisting temptations
- Having a hard time taking turns
- Difficulty getting along with others
Symptoms differ from child to child, and the symptoms that are strongest determine which type of ADHD a child has. Both symptoms and the type of ADHD can change over time.
The three types of ADHD are:
- Predominantly inattentive, when a child:
- Is easily distracted
- Has a hard time finishing tasks
- Has difficulty paying attention to details
- Struggles to follow instructions
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, when a child:
- Fidgets a lot and is very talkative
- Has a hard time sitting still (such as at the dinner table or during homework time)
- Interrupts others often
- Has a hard time waiting their turn
- Seems more accident and injury prone compared to other children
- Combined: when a child has symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive ADHD
I Think My Child Has ADHD — Now What?
If you believe your child may have ADHD, start by talking to their pediatrician. Pediatricians specialize in caring for children’s’ health and wellbeing.
Your child’s pediatrician may refer your child to a behavioral health specialist who specializes in mental health for further testing and treatment. Behavioral health specialists help children with ADHD develop skills to manage and work through emotions such as anger and anxiety.
If someone who cares for your child, such as a teacher or coach, tells you that they suspect ADHD, listen to what they have to say — but keep in mind that while they can give you important information about your child’s behavior, they can’t officially make a diagnosis. That needs to be left to the medical professionals.
Early intervention for ADHD is very important. The earlier they can begin treatment, the earlier your child can adjust to a plan that allows them to be successful in school, at home, and in relationships.
Treatment Options To Manage ADHD
ADHD treatment allows your child to engage in school, play with friends, and form relationships in ways that other children are able to — without the challenges of ADHD.
Treatment can involve medications, behavior therapy, or a combination of both. Be prepared to make changes along the way based on your child’s progress.
Many parents have questions about managing their child’s ADHD, and it’s understandable to be overwhelmed. However, with the proper treatment, ADHD symptoms can improve significantly.
There are two main components of treatment: Therapy and medication. Medication helps your child’s brain function more effectively, and therapy helps your child with daily thoughts, behaviors, and coping strategies. These treatments may be used separately or together.
Behavior TherapyADHD doesn’t just make it harder for children to pay attention in school — it can affect their relationships with family members and other children, since children with ADHD often behave in a way that is disruptive to others.
Behavior therapy can help reduce these behaviors. It’s best to start behavior therapy as soon as a diagnosis is made to allow your child to begin learning and strengthening positive behaviors and eliminating unwanted behaviors.
Just as children can benefit from learning ways to cope with ADHD, parents can also learn from behavior therapy.
Behavior Therapy for Children
Children with ADHD can learn better behaviors and self-control, and may have improved self-esteem, with behavioral therapy. Therapists may also help children learn to express their feelings in healthier ways.
School-aged children can also benefit from therapy by working on organizational skills, classroom behavior, and peer relationships.
Behavior Therapy: Parent Training
Parents can benefit from behavior therapy by learning and strengthening skills to teach, guide, and manage their children’s behavior. This type of therapy can strengthen the relationship between child and parent.
Stimulants are the most widely-used ADHD medication. They help children focus and ignore distractions more easily. Between 70 and 80% of children with ADHD have fewer symptoms when they take these medications as prescribed.
There are two main types of stimulants:
- Immediate-release (short-acting), usually taken every 4 hours or as needed, such as Adderall, Dexedrine, and Focalin
- Extended-release (intermediate and long-acting): usually taken once in the morning, such as Metadate CD, Adderall-XR, and Concerta
Side Effects of Stimulants
Some side effects, such as decreased appetite and sleep problems, can occur when taking stimulants, but they’re usually mild and short-lived. However, some children may experience prolonged and more severe side effects, including:
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- Problems with sleep
- Withdrawal from social situations
Though it’s very rare, some children may experience more severe side effects, such as:
- The “rebound effect” (increased hyperactivity or change in mood when the medication wears off)
- Brief muscle movements or sounds, called tics
- Minor delay in their growth
- Increased blood pressure or heart rate
If your child experiences any of these side effects, talk to their pediatrician. Many side effects can be managed by changing the dosage, adjusting the medication schedule, or trying different medications, including different stimulants or non-stimulants.
Non-stimulants don’t work as quickly as stimulants, but some can last for up to 24 hours. They can be useful if a child has had a negative reaction to stimulants or if stimulants are not effective. They can also be used along with a stimulant to make them more effective.
Non-stimulants are usually taken every 24 hours (long-acting) or 2 to 3 times a day (short-acting) and include:
- Atomoxetine, such as Strattera
- Long-acting guanfacine, such as Intuniv
- Short-acting guanfacine, such as Tenex
- Long-acting clonidine, such as Kapvay
Side Effects of Non-stimulants
Side effects of non-stimulants are usually mild, and if children do experience them, they often go away within 3 to 4 weeks. Possible side effects include:
- Sleepiness and fatigue
- Stomachache and nausea
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased appetite
Choosing the Right Treatment for Your Child
Just as each child is unique, each form of treatment for ADHD works differently. By working with your child’s pediatrician and behavioral specialists, you can determine a plan that works best for your child.
Supporting Your Child With ADHD
In addition to medication and therapy, you can help your child manage their ADHD symptoms by putting a strong support system in place at home. This can include:
- Making routines: Children with ADHD thrive when their days are structured and scheduled.
- Keeping items organized: Help your child keep their belongings in the same place every day to decrease their chances of losing important things, like homework assignments
- Setting their room up for success: Some children with ADHD focus better when allowed to move around or listen to music. Others need a distraction-free environment to complete tasks like homework. Work with your child to set up the right space.
- Limiting options: If your child needs to choose something — such as which snack to eat — limit them two or three choices to avoid overwhelming them with options.
- Break big tasks down: Breaking tasks or projects down into short steps — and allowing plenty of time to get things done — can help your child feel less overwhelmed when faced with a big project.
- Set goals — and reward your child for succeeding: Track your child’s success on a chart or list, and offer plenty of praise when they accomplish a task.
- Encourage healthy behaviors: Along with medication and therapy, making sure your child is eating right and getting enough physical activity and sleep can help keep ADHD symptoms in check.
Why Choose Stormont Vail
Located in Topeka, Kansas, Stormont Vail Health is a community-driven organization. It offers close to home care and with limited travel requirements, it will be easier for you to get the care your child needs from experienced pediatric providers you can trust at Cotton O’Neil Pediatrics.
In 2018, Stormont Vail achieved Magnet designation for a third time. Magnet designation is one of the highest awards in nursing excellence and high-quality patient care. Only 9% of US hospitals have earned this recognition. The Joint Commission — with more than 50 years of accrediting hospitals in high quality standards — has also accredited Stormont Vail Hospital.
With a care team that includes pediatricians, behavioral health specialists, nurses, and other specialists, Cotton O’Neil Pediatrics has an experienced and skilled medical team to help you manage your child’s ADHD. They may also refer your child to a specialist, if needed.