Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD symptoms affect an estimated five to 10% of children in the UK, but some cases aren't diagnosed until adulthood.
Here, we take a closer look at the condition, from identifying ADHD symptoms from a young age to finding appropriate ways to manage them...
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, is the name given to a behaviourial problem found in children. It's also called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or hyperactivity. Experts think it develops when the child is around 18 months but it can take a while for it to be diagnosed - sometimes people are not diagnosed until they are adults.
Some facts about ADHD:
- Symptoms usually develop between the ages of 3 and 7, and boys are more likely to have ADHD than girls.
- It's estimated that ADHD affects 5-10% of children and adolescents in the UK, with up to 1 in 100 severely affected.
- Recent research has found that 40% of high-rate young offenders have some form of ADHD/ADD.
Isn't it just kids being naughty?
No, experts know that it's not just children being naughty or boisterous. A child with ADHD will have specific behaviourial problems, such as not being able to concentrate, even on simple things such as eating and drinking. They may have less ability to control what they're doing or saying - this is because they are constantly driven by impulses beyond their control. Also, research has shown that children with ADHD find it difficult to filter the huge amount of information and stimulation we get every day. A child with ADHD may be violent or incredibly strong, this is because they have difficulty controlling the appropriate amount of force. You may notice your child is hyper all the time, is fidgety, disruptive and has sudden, unexplained bursts of hyperactivity.
What causes ADHD?
ADHD is a relatively newly-discovered condition, which is still being researched, so far experts believe:
- There are chemical imbalances in the brain that affects behaviour.
- Genes may play a part, there is often a history of hyperactivity or ADHD/ADD in the family.
- Research by the Food Standards Agency and Southampton University found that food additives such as artificial food colouring, flavourings and preservatives increase the hyperactivity in children with ADHD/ADD.
How do I know if my child has it?
If you notice any unusual or difficult behaviour speak to your GP and also to whoever else looks after your child, for example a teacher or nursery school worker. Ask them if they have also noticed unusual behaviour. All of these people will have had some awareness training of ADHD and will know who to refer you to, in most cases this will be a social worker or child psychologist.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
Because the causes of ADHD are still unknown and it's still not clear why children develop it, diagnosis will be down to a series of tests and observation by an educational psychologist, but doctors, teachers and social workers will be involved. In most cases the condition will be managed rather than cured completely. It's very common for kids to run around, throw tantrums and for babies to cry but if your child is regularly and repeatedly showing the following patterns of behaviour, despite giving them lots of attention and teaching them to stop, then they may have a behaviour issue.
Common ADHD symptoms in babies are:
- Being very restless and unable to settle
- Difficulty in breastfeeding
- Being extremely distressed, crying relentlessly and screaming that's not pacified or comforted
- Trouble sleeping
- Repetitive comforting motions such as rocking or repeatedly banging their head
Common ADHD symptoms in children are:
- Not being able to sit still
- Being impatient and not able to wait their turn in group situations
- Unable to follow instructions
- Unable to play quietly
- Clumsy and accident prone
- Disruptive behaviour, such as fits and tantrums
- Compulsive touching of everything and everyone, constantly fidgeting
- Unable to concentrate
- Normal or high IQ but may do badly at school
- Poor hand and eye coordination
- Uncooperative, defiant and disobedient
- Taking risks and playing dangerously without thinking about the consequences
- Inability to finish any activity
Although not a symptom of ADHD/ADD it's common to find the child has learning difficulties too, such as dyslexia, autism, difficulty with speech, language and co-ordination or mental health issues such as depression and obsessive behaviour.
What happens once my child has been diagnosed with ADHD?
It depends on the type and severity of ADHD. Your child will probably be given medication to help control their behaviour. Ritalin is a common drug, which has been found to help children concentrate and be less disruptive but this might not be suitable for all kids and so where possible other drugs will be prescribed. Some children can carry on going to school learning in the same way as other children but may need extra assistance in the classroom. Other kids need more help and may only go to school part-time and spend the rest of their time with specialists who have techniques to help the child learn and moderate their behaviour.
How is ADHD/ADD treated?
Although ADHD is not a disease, sufferers can benefit from medication but the type and dosage depends on the individual child. As this is a behavioural problem a specialist social worker or childcare worker will help to challenge and change the child's behaviour. Parents need to be involved in this too as their behaviour towards the child can help a great deal. Plus parents of kids with ADHD often find the condition stressful and need support and coping strategies.
What can I do to help?
Don't be scared to ask for help, there's no shame in admitting that you're finding it hard to cope with your child or that you don't understand their behaviour. ADHD/ADD is a complex condition and needs the attention of experts. Many parents have found that adjusting their child's diet has helped, cutting out junk food, sweets and fizzy drinks. Get in touch with a local support group and talk to other mums and dads, just letting off steam and sharing experiences can be a great relief and it's always good to be reminded that you're not alone.
Can you grow out of it?
No, but as your child gets older you'll all have a better understanding of the condition, and if you're diagnosed and given help early on, you'll be better at dealing with it.
Is there any other help available to me or my child?
Yes, every school will have links with an educational psychologist who can help and every council has a child social worker or team that can also give advice. It's also worth getting in touch with independent organisations such as The ADHD Foundation or the UK ADHD Partnership.
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