Five Steps to Understand and Get Help for ADHD

Does this sound like your child? It is hard for him/her to sit still? Does he/she act without thinking? Does he/she start but not finish things?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you my want to read the following information to learn more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a real illness that starts in childhood. It can change the way children act, think, and feel.

Some children with ADHD squirm, fidget, or wiggle all the time without thinking. Others seem to be in another world, often staring into space or daydreaming. All of these behaviors may be signs of ADHD. This may sound like many children. But when such behaviors make it hard for a child to do well in school or make friends, ADHD may be the cause. Parents of these children know there is a problem, but they may not be sure what the problem is, or what to do about it.

Step One - Look for signs of ADHD

Answer yes or no to the following questions, my child often:

  1. is moving something -- fingers, hands, arms, feet, or legs.
  2. walks, runs, or climbs around when others are seated.
  3. has trouble waiting in line or taking turns.
  4. doesn't finish things.
  5. gets bored after just a short while.
  6. daydreams or seems to be in another world.
  7. talks when other people are talking.
  8. gets frustrated with schoolwork or homework.
  9. acts quickly without thinking first.
  10. is sidetracked by what is going on around him or her.
If this sounds like your child, talk with your child's doctor. The doctor can tell whether your child has ADHD. The doctor can also tell you which treatments can help your child. If you visit the doctor, take this checklist with you.

What is normal?

Most children have trouble sitting still. Many kids don't finish their schoolwork. Few children sit through meals without tapping, kicking, or drumming. So how do you know what is normal and what is ADHD? Only a doctor can tell you for sure. ADHD behavior doesn't happen in only one place, like at school. It may happen every day in the classroom, on the playground, and at home. ADHD can lead to problems with learning, friendships, and family life.

Step Two - Learn that ADHD is an illness that can be treated.

ADHD can make children feel bad about themselves. They may see themselves as failures, when they are not. They need to help with this common childhood illness. With the right care, children with ADHD are able to pay attention, control their behavior, and slow their fast pace. With the illness under control, children can grow, learn, and develop better than before.


What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD has not yet been found. ADHD seems to run in families. If a parent, uncle, or grandparent has ADHD, the other family members may develop it. Physical differences in parts of the brain may also have something to do with it. There may not be a single cause, but a few things may come together to cause ADHD.

Step Three - Ask your child's doctor for help.

If you are worried about your child's behavior, trust your feelings. Ask your child's doctor for help. Many parents start by taking their child to see a family doctor or pediatrician. Some families go on to see doctors who specialize in childhood problems such as ADHD (child psychiatrists or child psychologists). Tell the doctor about the behavior that worries you. The doctor will tell you if the cause may be ADHD.

The doctor will also want to look for other possible causes of the behavior. Sometimes children who are dealing with divorce, death, or other problems act in ways that look like, but aren't, ADHD. For this reason, your doctor will ask about things that are happening at home. The doctor will also make sure that there are no other diseases or disabilities that might be causing your child's behavior.

Medicine and behavior therapy are the most common treatments for ADHD. Medicine for ADHD can help children pay attention, finish tasks, and think before they act. Behavior therapy involves meeting with the doctor to work on new skills and to make it easier to deal with the relationships, rules, limits, and choices. Both medicine and behavior therapy are safe and proven to work. These treatments used together give the best results.

Step Four - Talk to your child's teachers.

Your child's school may be able to help in many ways. Talk to your child's teachers about ADHD.

  • Ask if your child is having any problems in the classroom or playground.
  • Tell the teachers that your child has ADHD, a common childhood illness.
  • List any medications your child takes and explain any other treatments.
  • Find out if your child can get any special services that help with learning.

To make sure your child gets all the help he or she needs, you can also talk to the guidance counselor at school.

Step Five - Work together to help your child

Parents, children, teachers and doctors should work together as members of a team. Together you can set goals for your child and find the right treatment to reach those goals. Some of the goals families can work toward include:

  • helping your child feel better about themselves,
  • helping your child do better in school
  • helping your child follow classroom and household rules
  • helping children make more friends, and
  • reducing the behaviors that cause problems.

Some children with ADHD also get tutoring or counseling at school. Let your doctor know about any services provided by the school.

ADHD in teens and adults:

Many people think of ADHD as a childhood illness, but it can continue through the teen years into adulthood. The teen years can be especially hard. With ADHD, people act without thinking first. This can make it hard for teens to make careful choices about drugs, drinking, smoking, or sex. In therapy, teens and parents can work on rules, limits, and choices to help things go smoother at home and school.

ADHD also makes it hard to finish what you start. This can be a real problem for adults. Men and women may have trouble keeping up with the things they need to do at home and at work. Adults with ADHD may lose job after job because of their illness.

At any age, treatment can help.

Tips for Parents:

Try to learn as much as you can about ADHD. As a parent, trust your thoughts and feelings. You know your child better than anyone else. If you don't think your child is getting the services he or she needs, speak up. Tell your child's doctor or school what you think. And don't stop asking questions.

Remember ADHD can be treated. Keep working to help your child get better. To be your child's best helper, take good care of yourself and stay healthy.

For more, please read the Attention Deficit-hyperactivity Disorder article.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

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Last Editorial Review: 6/8/2004