Does My Child Have ADHD?

Last Editorial Review: 6/6/2017

Ask the experts

I think my child may have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Where do I begin? Testing? Drugs?

Doctor's response

If you think your child may have ADHD, you are not alone! It is estimated that between 3% and 13% of school-aged children have ADHD. The child with ADHD is likely to demonstrate several of these symptoms:

  1. Recurrent impulsive behavior (for example, frequent interrupting of others and "acting without thinking")
  2. The appearance of being constantly in motion, "squirmy", and not staying seated
  3. And, perhaps the hallmark feature, difficulty paying attention. Not keeping track of things and being easily distracted and appearing to be always disorganized

It is important to know that not all children with ADHD are "hyper," so if your child is struggling in school and seems to fit several of the other criteria but does not "bounce off of the walls," there still may very well exist a type of ADHD categorized as "Inattention-Only ADHD."

The first step in evaluating your child involves a consultation with your child's pediatrician, during which you clearly explain your concerns. Let the office know that you are concerned about the possibility of ADHD. Your doctor may well want to schedule significantly more time for the visit than the usual "well-child checkup." A complete and thorough physical examination is crucial, because a number of other problems can cause symptoms exactly mimicking ADHD, such as emotional issues, underlying illnesses, anemia, and visual and hearing problems, among others. Thereafter, your doctor will need to be the "captain of the team" in coordinating the careful documentation of your child's specific symptoms in his school, home, and social settings. Your doctor may also want to order educational testing in areas like intelligence, current achievement levels, and looking for other specific learning disorders. And if the diagnosis of ADHD is reached with confidence, your doctor must sit down with you and your child and discuss the various options available in the management of your child's ADHD.

What are the treatments for ADHD?

It is very important to realize that today there are a variety of methods of helping the child with ADHD. I have met so many families that have avoided addressing their child's struggles in school and in their lives because they were adamant that they did not want their child "on drugs." Your doctor should be there to present all of the treatment options, the up and down sides of each, and to help you make the best decisions that your wisdom tells you, based on all of the facts, not myths or misconceptions obtained from nonprofessionals.

Finally, please address the issue early. Don't wait until your child is failing in school to seek attention. School is tough enough nowadays; your child needs to be able to function at his best and love, not dread, going to class!

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Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics


"Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: Clinical features and diagnosis"