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.
Neil Peterson, a transportation specialist in Seattle, knew something was "not quite right" with his bright, sociable daughter Kelsey when she was in elementary school. "It took her so long to learn to read," Peterson says. "She was not hyperactive, but she had tremendous distractibility and an inability to follow through and stay with something." Kelsey's teachers told Peterson not to worry, and he listened.
On the surface, Kelsey was no different from other kids her age -- all young students,...
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 learning disorders.