Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a disorder that is most often diagnosed in childhood, is characterized by trouble paying attention, impulsiveness, excessive activity, and problems controlling behavior that isn’t age-appropriate. It’s a disorder that parents may be hesitant to consider because its symptoms are easily attributed to a child acting like a child. But if symptoms persist, or increase, it is something that parents should definitely talk to their child’s pediatrician about.
If you think that your child may have ADHD, your pediatrician will likely refer you to a mental health specialist for a diagnosis, unless he or she has experience with ADHD.
The first thing your doctor or mental health professional will do is assess your child’s behavior. This should be done comprehensively – by talking to you, observing your child, reviewing medical records, talking with your child’s teachers (or at the minimum having them complete standardized evaluation forms about your child’s behavior), and possibly talking with other adults who are part of your child’s life.
Your child’s doctor may decide to perform a non-invasive brain scan to assist in the diagnosis. The scan measures theta and beta brain waves, which tend to have a higher ratio in children and adolescents with ADHD than in those without it. This scan is approved for use on children between the ages of 6 and 17 years-old. The scan itself is not definitive in diagnosing ADHD, it should be used in conjunction with medical and behavioral observations and reporting.
It’s difficult to determine if children under 6 suffer from ADHD because the behavior of children that young can look like ADHD and yet be completely normal. In order for your child to be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be present for a certain period of time, and they must be affecting your child’s life (school, home, recreational activities, etc.). That’s not an easy thing to evaluate in very young children, so most diagnoses of ADHD occur sometime after children hit the 6 years-old benchmark.
ADHD is a treatable disorder that you and your child’s doctor can manage. It is most commonly treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapies, but there are also some things that you can do at home to help your child. Following a routine every day, praising and using positive reinforcement, making sure your child gets enough sleep and eats a healthy diet, and most of all, modeling good behavior, are all things that are beneficial to children with ADHD.