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October is National ADHD Awareness Month. Some studies estimate that 3.5% of the population has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD does not result from too much TV, too much sugar or the effects of certain parenting practices. Rather, it’s a variation in the way a person’s brain is structured.
Treatment for ADHD can include both medication and therapy. Doctors do not recommend medication for children younger than 6, however.
If you don’t have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) yourself, you probably have at least one loved one who does. And no wonder — ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Since the 1990s, the number of children and adults diagnosed with the condition in the United States has skyrocketed — some studies have shown that 3.5% of the population has been diagnosed with ADHD.
Why is it so common, and what kinds of treatments are available for this disorder? In this National ADHD Awareness Month, Providence answers some of your most commonly asked questions.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a brain-based medical disorder that has to do with how a certain set of brain actions and related behaviors are controlled. These actions and behaviors are called “executive functioning skills,” and they include:
- Learning from mistakes
- Impulsivity (acting based on impulse instead of thought)
- Hyperactivity (behavior that’s constantly active and sometimes disruptive)
- Motivation and effort
- Social skills
Genes play a major part in ADHD, but there are also other causes, such as chemical differences and variations in the way a person’s brain is structured.
Studies have put to rest certain myths about what causes ADHD. Over-consumption of sugar, watching too much television and the effects of certain parenting practices are a few of the causes that studies have invalidated.
How do you diagnose ADHD?
There’s not just one medical, physical or genetic test that leads to an ADHD diagnosis. That’s why getting professional help — from either a doctor or mental health expert — is key to getting the right diagnosis.
The process of diagnosing a child with ADHD takes several steps. One reason is because other problems such as depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and certain learning disabilities can have symptoms like ADHD. In fact, dyslexia may look like ADHD, making it difficult to determine which diagnosis is correct.
One step of the process is for your child to have a medical exam. The exam should include hearing and vision tests to help rule out other conditions that often include ADHD symptoms. Your child’s history will also be important to the exam. This will come from you, teachers and, in some cases, your child.
Although there isn’t just one test for ADHD, a qualified mental health care professional or doctor can provide an evaluation after gathering information from a number of sources, including:
- ADHD symptom checklists
- A detailed history of current and past functioning
- Standardized behavior rating scales
- Information gathered from family members or others who know you well
Some professionals will also test your cognitive ability and academic achievement so they can rule out a possible learning disability. An accurate diagnosis of ADHD from a brief office visit or conversation with your doctor is rare. In most cases, professionals need to map the history of your life, and also consider whether there may be other physical or mental health conditions contributing to your symptoms.
Another option is adult self-screening. Look for a self-screening tool that serves as a starting point to help you learn the symptoms of adult ADHD.
Does treatment for ADHD in children always have to include medication?
The simple answer to this question is no. The more complicated answer is that it depends on your goals for your child, their age, and how much the ADHD is impacting their ability to function in school and other settings.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents of children younger than 6 undergo training in behavior management and coping strategies before even thinking about medication.
For children ages 6-18, the AAP recommends both stimulants and non-stimulants, which can increase brain levels of dopamine and treat other symptoms of ADHD, respectively. Behavior management therapy can also be helpful — especially for younger children. In some cases, this may be enough to make a difference in a child without medical intervention.
Left untreated, ADHD can cause a child to fall behind in school, have difficulties with friendships and have conflicts with their parents.
What about medication for adults?
For adults, treatment can include stimulants and non-stimulants. But psychotherapy is also important because it can help you improve your time management skills, learn ways to improve relationships, work on strategies for controlling your temper, and work on improving your distractibility, forgetfulness and inattention.
The best person to determine whether you have ADHD — and whether you would benefit from treatment — is your primary care provider. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment and discuss symptoms. It could make a big difference in your daily life.
Find a doctor
The ADHD Awareness Month coalition encourages adults who think they may have ADHD, and parents who think their child might, to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. If that’s you, we can help.
Visit our provider directory to find a primary care doctor or specialist to start the conversation.
Download the Providence App
We’re with you, wherever you are. Make the Providence app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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