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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, is one of the most common mental health disorders that develop in children. Children with ADHD have impaired functioning in multiple settings, including home, school, and in relationships with peers.

ADHD becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is hard for these children to control their behavior and/or pay attention. It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, or approximately 2 million children in the United States. This means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD will appear over the course of many months, and include:

  • Impulsiveness: a child who acts quickly without thinking first.
  • Hyperactivity: a child who can't sit still, walks, runs, or climbs around when others are seated, talks when others are talking.
  • Inattention: a child who daydreams or seems to be in another world, is sidetracked by what is going on around him or her.

Because everyone shows some of these behaviors at times, the diagnosis requires that such behavior be demonstrated to a degree that is inappropriate for the person’s age. The diagnostic guidelines also contain specific requirements for determining when the symptoms indicate ADHD. The behaviors must appear early in life, before age 7, and continue for at least 6 months. Above all, the behaviors must create a real handicap in at least two areas of a person’s life such as in the schoolroom, on the playground, at home, in the community, or in social settings.

To assess whether a child has ADHD, specialists consider several critical questions: Are these behaviors excessive, long-term, and pervasive? That is, do they occur more often than in other children the same age? Are they a continuous problem, not just a response to a temporary situation? Do the behaviors occur in several settings or only in one specific place like the playground or in the schoolroom?

If ADHD is suspected, the diagnosis should be made by a professional with training in ADHD. This includes child psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, behavioral neurologists, and clinical social workers. After ruling out other possible reasons for the child’s behavior, the specialist checks the child’s school and medical records and talks to teachers and parents who have filled out a behavior rating scale for the child. A diagnosis is made only after all this information has been considered.

Currently available treatments for ADHD focus on reducing the symptoms and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, various types of psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.

Some children with ADHD continue to have it as adults. And many adults who have the disorder don't know it. They may feel that it is impossible to get organized, stick to a job, or remember and keep appointments. Like children, adults who suspect they have ADHD should be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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