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How to Help a Child With ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders. About 6 million children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed in the U.S., according to the CDC. Yet many parents of kids with ADHD say they didn't know much about the condition until their child was diagnosed. Also, the information they got from their doctors may have been too technical for them to understand or not tailored to their child's needs.

What you read online may be easier to follow, but that’s not always based on sound science. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction when you do your own health research online. There are a lot of myths about ADHD on the internet. Here are a few: It's not a real medical condition. All children with ADHD are hyperactive. Kids outgrow ADHD.

But all the major medical groups -- including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and National Institutes of Health -- recognize ADHD as a valid condition that should be treated.

If you feel overwhelmed by a new ADHD diagnosis and you don't know where to turn, this guide can help. You'll learn the basics about ADHD and its treatments and find out how to separate fact from fiction. Learning about ADHD can help you become a better advocate for your child and get them on the right treatment path.

What to Know About ADHD in Children

ADHD is a brain disorder that first shows up in childhood. It's a real medical condition that affects the way a child's mind develops and works.

In general, kids with ADHD struggle with executive function -- the skills that help them plan, organize, and control their behaviors and emotions. Still, ADHD looks different in each child. Some kids have trouble with focus and attention. Others can't sit still or control their impulses. Some kids have both hyperactivity and inattention. These symptoms can get in the way of school, friendships, and home life.

Doctors are still learning about the causes of ADHD and the best ways to treat it. They already know that it runs in families. If your child has ADHD, there's a 1 in 4 chance that either you or the other parent has ADHD, too. Some parents get a diagnosis at the same time as their child.

These are some of the other factors that could play a part in triggering ADHD:

  • Head injury
  • Early birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Exposure to alcohol or tobacco smoke in the womb
  • Chemical or lead exposure in early childhood

Diagnosing ADHD is a team effort. A mental health professional will do an assessment based on feedback from you and your child's doctor, teachers, and other caregivers. Your child will also get tests to measure their attention and other ADHD symptoms.

Their doctor may also suggest you and your child's teachers fill out a Conners Rating Scales (Conners CBRS) form. These have multiple-choice questions that ask about certain social, emotional, behavioral, and academic issues in kids aged 6-18.

The Vanderbilt ADHD Rating Scales are similar and can be filled out by parents or teachers.

In the future, doctors might also be able to diagnose ADHD by measuring brainwaves. But research suggests that currently available EEG devices, including the FDA-approved Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA), still are inaccurate and are best used to help with a traditional diagnosis.

Treatment involves a combination of therapy and medication. Medicines called psychostimulants can help reduce hyperactivity and other symptoms. Behavioral therapy encourages self-control, impulse control, and organization.

Management also includes regular exercise and limiting screen time (especially “fast-paced” media such as video games). Parent coaching and school support also are critical.

Myths About ADHD

You’ve got the basics now, but when you face a new diagnosis, for you or your child, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the condition. But be careful when you research online.

If you type “Is ADHD fake?” or “ADHD critics” into a search engine, you’ll likely get pages of articles saying it’s a “controversy.” These include books and articles in mainstream media. Here are just a few of the most common myths about ADHD and the truths behind them.

Myth: Kids can get ADHD from eating too much sugar or watching too much TV.

Fact: There's no evidence that a child's diet or TV-watching habits play any role in ADHD. There’s no link between vaccines and ADHD either. In fact, nothing you’ve done or haven’t done as a parent would trigger the condition.

Myth: Preschoolers are too young to have ADHD.

Fact: Most kids with ADHD get a diagnosis between ages 3 and 7. Sometimes, it's hard to tell normal preschooler behavior apart from ADHD. That's why it's important to get a diagnosis from a pediatrician or a mental health professional who works with children who have ADHD.

Myth: Children who can't focus or pay attention are just lazy.

Fact: ADHD is a real medical condition. Kids with this condition find it difficult to focus or pay attention because of differences in the way their brains work compared to those of other kids. They're not lazy or stubborn.

Myth: All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.

Fact: Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD can have problems paying attention without having symptoms related to hyperactivity. It may take longer for kids with this type of ADHD to get a diagnosis because their symptoms are more subtle.

Myth: Medicine can cure ADHD.

Fact: No cure exists for ADHD. Medicine and therapy often help with symptoms, but kids may need to stay on these treatments for the long term.

Myth: Kids will outgrow ADHD.

Fact: Symptoms may improve over time as kids learn to manage them. But about 80% of children still have ADHD as adults.

Where to Find Good Information and Advice

When you do research on ADHD, use reliable sources to ensure that the information you find is accurate. Start with your child's pediatrician, who may refer you to a child psychologist or psychiatrist for testing. Any of these professionals can offer you credible information about ADHD and recommend places where you can go to learn more.

Be wary of websites that promise a cure. There's no cure for ADHD, although medication and therapy can reduce the effects of the condition on your child's life. Also, avoid sources that suggest ADHD is not real.

Websites from the government, national ADHD organizations, universities, and medical centers are usually the most accurate sources of information.

Here are a few good places to start your online search for ADHD info:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
  • National Institute of Mental Health

A support group is another place to learn about ADHD. You can find these groups through your child's pediatrician or CHADD. There you'll meet other parents of children who have ADHD and learn what strategies work for them. Many of them will be further along in their ADHD parenting journey. You may find them to be rich sources of information and expertise.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Marco VDM / Getty Images


CDC: “What is ADHD?” “Data and Statistics About ADHD.”

CHADD: “ADHD Changes in Adulthood,” “Parenting a Child with ADHD,” “Clinical Practice Tools.”

Child Mind Institute: “Complete Guide to ADHD.” “8 ADHD Myths & Misconceptions,” “Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today.”

KidsHealth: “ADHD.”

Lancet Psychiatry: “ADHD in children and young people: prevalence, care pathways, and service provision.”

NHS: “Overview-Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

Patient Preference and Adherence: “Do parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) receive adequate information about the disorder and its treatments? A qualitative investigation.”

Understood: “8 Common myths about ADHD,” “Understanding ADHD in your child.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “EEG for Diagnosis of Adult ADHD: A Systematic Review With Narrative Analysis.”