What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects children and adults. The prevalence among the general population is 6-7% and it is three times more common in boys than in girls. From all the children who are diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, 30%-50% continue to have symptoms in adulthood. For a diagnosis to be made the symptoms must appear before seven to twelve years of age and last more than six months. There are three main subtypes: inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The main symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Here are some of the most common symptoms according to the three subtypes:
- Inattentive children are easily distracted, have difficulty in concentrating and in organizing a task, they don’t seem to listen when spoken to, day dream, feel confused, and face difficulty in processing information.
- Hyperactive children fidget in their seats, talk nonstop, have trouble staying still during meal times, and have difficulty doing quiet activities.
- Impulsive children are impatient, show their emotions without processing them, have difficulty waiting for their turn, interrupt conversations, and act without thinking the consequences.
What causes ADHD?
Scientists are not exactly sure what may cause ADHD. Many different factors such as genes, environment and diet may contribute to the disorder.
- Genes: results of several international studies have shown that ADHD is passed from one generation to another. Scientists try to find which specific genes or combination of genes is responsible for ADHD in order to eliminate the risks of developing the disorder.
- Environmental factors: studies have found that children who were exposed to lead during infancy have more possibilities of developing ADHD. Also children whose mother smoked systematically or drank alcohol during pregnancy are more at risk of having similar difficulties.
- Food additives: there is no research that directly connects ADHD with food additives. However, some children may develop symptoms of ADHD when they eat food with additives, preservatives and artificial flavors quite often. A diet with less of these ingredients may help reduce the symptoms.
How is ADHD treated?
Current treatment of ADHD aims at mitigating the symptoms and improving the everyday life of the child. Possible treatments include medication, psychotherapy, parents’ counseling or a combination of the above.
- Medication: stimulants such as methylphenidate and amphetamines are the most common medicine used for ADHD. Although it seems strange to prescribe stimulants to overly active children, this medicine activates specific brain circuits that enhance focus and attention. For some children this medication can be quite effective. It can help them reduce their hyperactive behavior and assist them in learning and completing tasks at school. However, not all children respond well to medication. Close monitoring by the pediatrician is always needed to define the special needs of each child and eliminate the possible side effects.
- Psychotherapy: different types of psychotherapy are used for ADHD. One of them is behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy involves practical tasks such as learning how to complete school work in a specific time, how to monitor one’s own behavior, how to praise oneself or how to control your anger. Therapists can also teach children social skills such as waiting for their turn, asking what they want in a polite way, expressing their feelings and understanding the feelings of other children.
- Parents’ Counseling: children with ADHD need a lot of support from their parents in order to build their self-esteem and achieve their academic goals. Before ADHD is diagnosed much frustration, anger and disappointment may exist in the family. Parents themselves often need help to overcome these feelings and stop the vicious cycle of negative emotions. Counselors can teach parents and children how to face the difficult aspects of ADHD by providing information and education. They can also encourage parents to praise the child’s strength and abilities and find new constructive ways of communicating.