Symptoms and Identification

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

There are four different types of ADHD, all with their own defining characteristics.  If you are concerned with whether your child has ADHD, below are the diagnostic criteria used by psychologist and psychiatrists as a guide to determine whether a child has the condition.

Hyperactive type ADHD (any 6 of the following):

·        Fidgets or squirms

·        Gets up when is expected to sit or lie still

·        Runs or climbs excessively/inappropriately

·        Has difficulty with quiet activities like reading, drawing, or painting

·        Described as “on the go, “constantly moving” or “driven by a motor”

·        Talk excessively

·        Blurts out answers before the question has been completely asked

·        Difficulty waiting turns

·        Interrupts others

·        Intrusive of others

Inattentive type ADHD (any 6 of the following):

·        Makes careless mistakes on school work or activities

·        Difficulty sustaining attention

·        Appears not to listen or hear when spoken to directly

·        Difficulty finishing work/activities

·        Difficulty completing tasks as instructed

·        Difficulty organizing tasks

·        Commonly avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to do tasks that require attention (like writing, mathematics, etc.)

·        Forgetful

·        Frequently loses items

·        Easily distracted

Combined type ADHD-a mix of any of the above characteristics, totaling at least 6.

ADHD, not otherwise specified:  this is a catch all category for a child with attention problems that doesn’t quite meet the minimum of 6 from the symptoms listed above.

Boys are more likely to be impacted by ADHD and exhibit hyperactive symptoms.and   Typically ADHD is suspected when a child begins school and is expected to sustain attention and control of their behavior for long periods of time. (see Home and School Tips)

Girls are more likely to be impacted by the inattentive type of ADHD and are more likely to go undiagnosed.  In general, women realize they have ADHD during stressful times in their life when demands are high and their ability to multi-task is impacted.  Additions of children to the family, learning a new job or returning to school are common times women suspect attention problems.

Can it be anything else?

ADHD symptoms mimic a lot of disorders in children including sleep disorders (if your child snores there’s a good chance this is the source of the ADHD symptoms), sensory processing disorder (SPD), generalized anxiety disorder, or learning delays.  An assessment performed by a psychologist or occupational therapist is always recommended.  Sometimes medications can help rule in or out a diagnosis.  If your child doesn’t respond to several different ADHD medications, they don’t have ADHD. 

So, what causes it?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, however, research has found that people with ADHD have dysfunctional frontal lobe and subcortical connections in the brain.  The frontal lobe and cortical structures of the brain are primarily responsible for activities like attention span, organization, and behavior control.  The basal ganglia, a structure in the brain that connects motor activity and thinking, is smaller in volume than a normal brain.     In addition to brain structure abnormalities, the neurochemicals are different too.  In children with ADHD, serotonin levels are low leading to symptoms like impulsivity and a lack of inhibition.  Dopamine, involved in memory, concentration and controlling emotions is also lower than normal.  Finally, norepinephrine, needed for analysis and reasoning are low.

Fortunately, there are several medications available to treat the chemical imbalances: Medications and Side Effects