There is no cure for ADHD, but medications can help control symptoms.
Stimulants, which help increase a child's attention span, are the most commonly
prescribed medications for ADHD. These stimulants include Ritalin
(methylphenidate), Adderall (mixed salts of a single-entity amphetamine
product), Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) and Cylert (pemoline). [Note: In March
2005, the manufacturer of Cylert, Abbot Laboratories, discontinued this drug
due to declining sales.] Other types of medications may be used, depending upon
the child's needs: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly half
of all children with ADHD also suffer from conditions such as depression and
Though many kids are labeled as "hyperactive," only
a pediatrician or other trained professional can diagnose ADHD. Typically,
symptoms of ADHD develop before the age of 7, but the disorder can go
undiagnosed into adulthood and can have devastating effects, including poor
self-esteem, school failure and loss of friendships. But with the right
treatment and early intervention, a child can learn to cope with the condition
and keep pace with his peers.
For many children with ADHD, a call from a teacher was the first time their parents started discussing the possibility of ADHD.
"The vast majority of cases are brought to the attention of parents by educators, either at the preschool level or elementary school level," says George DuPaul, PhD, of Lehigh University. He has a background in school psychology, with a special interest in ADHD.
But even though teachers spend the entire day watching kids' behavior, "sometimes they're right and sometimes...
ADHD is one of the most common psychiatric conditions among
children, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of all school-age kids. Children
with ADHD generally have a poor attention span and/or high levels of activity
and impulsivity. They seem to live in a high-speed world of shifting thoughts,
sights and sounds, which they can't filter out as unimportant to the task at
hand, whether it's learning in a classroom, following directions from a parent
or understanding the conversation of a friend.
Theories Behind the Cause
Our understanding of ADHD has changed over the years. At one
time, it was thought to be due to subtle, undetectable brain damage. More
recent studies suggest that individuals with ADHD show differences in the areas
of the brain responsible for controlling attention span, planning and motor
activity. Theories that food allergies, excess sugar and other popular dietary
scapegoats cause ADHD lack scientific validity, but more studies are needed.
There certainly are genetic factors at work: ADHD tends to run in families. The
bottom line, however, is that the cause of ADHD is still unknown.
Because there is no single test for ADHD, a diagnosis must
be made considering a number of factors. Pediatricians often do the initial
diagnostic assessment. If a case of ADHD appears severe, the child will be
referred to a specialist, such as a psychologist, neurologist or psychiatrist.
The pediatrician or specialist collects information about behavior, learning
difficulties and other information from the child, parents and teachers and
pulls it all together for a complete picture, which is then compared against a
set of ADHD criteria. Experts must be sure to rule out other behavioral
conditions, such as an anxiety disorder or even a sleep disorder. Intelligence
and school achievement may also be tested to evaluate the possibility of