People are talking about ADHD. Whether it is on the news or mentioned by your child’s teacher, many people do not clearly understand Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Below are several questions I am frequently asked as a pediatric behavioral health provider.
What is ADHD?
ADHD occurs when a child’s brain develops differently. This non-typical development causes children to have trouble deciding what they should pay attention to. More simply, people with ADHD have trouble focusing on one thing at a time.
For example, a child trying to listen to their teacher’s lecture may become distracted by the squeaking of a chair.
ADHD also includes hyperactivity and impulsivity. In other words, a child may struggle to stop themselves from acting on sudden thoughts. They may sit down to do their homework and then leave their desk because they realize they forgot to turn off the television.
These symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity may present by themselves or together. Although the term ADD was previously used to label attentional problems, it is now considered outdated.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
While approximately one in 10 children have ADHD, attentional and behavioral problems are sometimes normal or related to emotional problems. Parents who are worried their child has ADHD should share their concerns with their pediatrician to decide if their child should be further evaluated or treated.
At Healthcare Network, ADHD assessment begins after a parent expresses concern to their child’s doctor. If concerns are found, the physician will conduct a “warm handoff,” and request that the psychologist come into the exam room.
Together, the parents, psychologist and physician will talk about the child’s symptoms and decide what to do next. If the decision is to evaluate, parents return for a follow-up appointment called a diagnostic intake. During this appointment, the psychologist will ask the parents more questions and review information provided by the child’s teacher. The psychologist may also have the child complete computerized testing to determine a diagnosis.
How is ADHD treated?
If a child is diagnosed, treatment may include medication. While medication is not always needed or wanted, it is considered the gold standard in ADHD treatment.
However, the decision to use medication is made by parents and their physician together. If medication is prescribed, the child is monitored during frequent office visits in which parent and teacher input is reviewed.
These visits allow the physician to see if the child is benefiting from the medication, if there are any side effects, or if adjustments are needed. ADHD medication side effects are generally mild and can include headaches, reduced appetite, irritability and decreased talking.
ADHD can also be treated with therapy. Psychologists can focus on behavior by teaching children how to organize their materials and prioritize tasks. They can also guide parents on how to work with their child’s school to help with the treatment plan.
For children with more serious ADHD symptoms, medication and self-management strategies may not be enough. In these instances, psychologists can help parents enroll their child in Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA. This involves a therapist creating a plan designed for a child’s specific needs and then working one-to-one to improve their attention.
What are the risks of not treating ADHD?
Although the process of diagnosing and treating ADHD can be complex and take time, it is vital to ensure children are successful and happy. Children with ADHD experience anxiety or depression more often than other children. These feelings often result from below-average grades and getting in trouble. Improving a child’s concentration can improve their self-esteem and prevent emotional problems.
About the Author
Dr. Keenan Tamm is a licensed clinical psychologist with Healthcare Network, a nonprofit health center committed to ensuring primary care is accessible to children, adults and seniors in Collier County. For more information, please call 239-658-3000 or visit HealthcareSWFL.org.