ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. An older term many people still use for ADHD is ADD, which stands for attention deficit disorder.
In the United States, about 8.4% of children have ADHD, with symptoms typically showing around age 3-6. Children are diagnosed at different ages, with severe ADHD diagnosed on average at age 5 and mild ADHD diagnosed on average at age 8.
A child with ADHD has differences in their brain development and activity, which impact their ability to pay attention, self-control, and the ability to sit still. ADHD can affect a child at home, at school, and within their interpersonal relationships.
The Signs of ADHD
It is natural for children to struggle to listen, pay attention, sit still, follow directions, or wait their turn. However, for children with ADHD, these struggles are amplified and happen more frequently.
Children with ADHD often show signs in one or more of the below areas:
Children who are inattentive have difficulty staying on task, concentrating, and focusing their attention on the task at hand. This may be seen through behavior such as:
Not finishing what they started
Missing important details
Not following directions well
They may seem absent-minded or forgetful like they are always daydreaming. They may easily lose track of their personal possessions.
When a child is impulsive, they act quickly without thinking through their actions. This looks like:
Pushing or grabbing
Doing things without permission
Taking things that are not theirs
Acting in ways that are risky
A child who is impulsive may also have emotional reactions that seem too intense for the situation that caused the reaction. They act quickly without giving thought to the consequences.
A child who is hyperactive will get easily bored. They are often described as fidgety and restless. This can look like this:
Trouble sitting still
Excessive physical movement
Difficulty staying quiet when needed
Act out physically, such as climbing, jumping, or roughhousing, when it isn’t appropriate for the situation
Rush through tasks, resulting in careless mistakes
It is important to note that it is normal for young children to be impulsive, impatient, restless, and to get distracted. These traits alone don’t mean that a child has ADHD.
Children learn how to pay attention, self-control, and when to be active in stages as they grow. They learn these skills with assistance from teachers and parents.
When a child doesn’t get better at these skills and continues to show issues with paying attention, settling down, listening, and waiting, that is when ADHD needs to be considered.
Types of ADHD
ADHD doesn’t look the same in every child. There are three different types of ADHD, each with a different dominant character trait.
Primary Hyperactive and Impulsive ADHD
A child with hyperactive and impulsive ADHD needs to be in constant motion. This is exhibited by squirming, fidgeting, and struggling to stay seated. The child may appear to be driven by an internal motor that is always on, running around excessively.
This can also be seen through behaviors such as blurting out answers, struggling with self-control, and non-stop talking. This type of ADHD is often easier for parents and teachers to recognize. Hyperactive and impulsive ADHD is most often diagnosed in both children and adult men.
Primarily Inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD)
Primarily inattentive ADHD, or simply inattentive ADHD, used to be called ADD. Children with inattentive ADHD have a weak working memory, which can be seen as difficulty sustaining attention for long periods, issues with following detailed instructions, and difficulty with organizing tasks and activities they need to complete.
Inattentive ADHD is often diagnosed more in female children and adults.
Many children have a combination of the above types of ADHD, resulting in a diagnosis of combined-type ADHD. This is determined by analyzing the specific symptoms a child has.
It is important to note that ADHD can change over time. A child may exhibit multiple symptoms of ADHD when young but learn how to control some of those symptoms as an adult.
What the 3 Primary Types of ADHD Look Like in Daily Life
Physicians use a formal system to evaluate and determine if a child has ADHD. However, their formal checklist doesn’t always capture what ADHD looks like in daily life.
Primary Hyperactive and Impulsive ADHD
When most people think of ADHD, they think of a child bouncing off the walls at home and school, constantly interrupting the teacher. However, that is not the only way that hyperactive and impulsive type behavior manifests itself.
Fidgety: A child with hyperactive ADHD will constantly fidget with their hands and feet, squirming around in their seat. This may result in the child falling out of their seat frequently. It can be mentally and physically uncomfortable for them to sit still.
Restlessness: Very young children with hyperactive ADHD may literally crash into walls and furniture, climb on just about everything, and run around constantly. Older children may walk away from their desks in the middle of the lesson or get up to walk around when they are supposed to be sitting down and eating dinner.
Noisy: Children with hyperactive ADHD often talk to themselves, even singing and humming regularly. When speaking, their volume may be louder than is appropriate for the situation.
Talkative: The child may talk all the time without taking appropriate breaks or allowing others to comment and engage in conversation with them.
Impulsive reactions: They may react impulsively and not have the ability to wait their turn. For example, they may finish other people’s sentences, blurt out answers to questions, and retaliate right away if someone wrongs them.
Struggles to wait their turn: A child may have trouble waiting their turn in various day-to-day situations. For example, they may talk over other people or jump in and answer questions instead of waiting for their turn in class. They may be unable to wait their turn when playing board games and sports.
Disruptive: A child may be seen as disruptive by others, such as joining activities that they don’t belong to or inserting themselves into conversations they are not a part of.
Primarily Inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD)
People with inattentive ADHD are often overlooked, as the symptoms are easier to ignore than hyperactive and impulsive ADHD. Inattentive ADHD is just as important to treat as it can significantly impact a child’s academic and emotional success.
Forgetfulness: A child may forget to brush their teeth before bed, forget that it is time to come in from recess, or forget about their homework assignments. Older children may forget about appointments and events they are supposed to attend. This forgetfulness isn’t intentional or done on purpose; it is part of having inattentive ADHD.
Distractibility: A child may struggle to pay attention, even when they should. They may stare off into space when they should be paying attention to the teacher or doodle in a notebook instead of taking actual notes.
Bermuda Triangle syndrome: They misplace essential items on a daily basis, such as their shoes, socks, backpack, and lunch box.
Disorganized: Toys, clothes, and school items are not put back where they should go, and everything is lying around like a tornado just hit their personal space.
No follow through: A child may start projects but never finish them. That can look like starting to build a Lego set and then abandoning it.
Poor listening skills: A child may struggle to listen all the way to information that is conveyed to them. They may zone out during conversations.
Short attention spans: Often, children with inattentive ADHD have short attention spans, which can result in many incomplete school assignments and unfinished play projects at home.
Children with combined-type ADHD will exhibit a range of the above real-life behaviors to different degrees.
Types of ADHD
With ADHD, often, parents or teachers notice some of the above symptoms of ADHD, resulting in an appointment with the child’s doctor.
The child’s primary care physician will perform a full check-up to ensure underlying issues, such as hearing or vision issues, are not the cause of the symptoms. The doctor will then ask about the child’s health, behavior, and activity. They will talk to the parent and child about things they may have noticed.
Often, parents complete a detailed checklist about their child’s behavior. If the child is school-aged, their teacher may also be asked to complete a similar checklist. This helps the doctor gather information about the child’s behavior and actions in their day-to-day life from the people who interact with them the most.
A diagnosis of ADHD is generally given if the following criteria are met, in addition to exhibiting the clinical symptoms of ADHD:
The behaviors have been ongoing since the child was young.
The behaviors affect the child’s ability to succeed in school and to function as part of their family at home.
The child’s hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and ability to pay attention exceed what is usual for children of their age and gender.
Other learning and health issues have been ruled out via a health check as the cause of the behaviors.
Many children with ADHD may have other learning issues, such as anxiety problems, mood problems, and oppositional and defiant behaviors. These additional issues are often treated alongside ADHD.
Conditions that Coexist with ADHD
Some children with ADHD also have other conditions or illnesses, such as:
Oppositional defiant disorder
Anxiety and depression
ADHD doesn’t mean the child will have another condition; however, about 60% of children with ADHD also have one or more co-existing mental health conditions.
ADHD often requires a comprehensive treatment plan that relies on multiple forms of treatment.
Medications are often used to help the brain’s ability to pay attention, exhibit more self-control, and slow down. The most common medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants, which have a calming effect on children with ADHD.
Many medications for ADHD are targeted for reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity and improving focus. For some, medication can be used to improve physical coordination.
Behavioral therapies, social skills training, and parent skills training and counseling can help children with ADHD, as well as their families, support them.
ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to redirect a child’s behavior that is driven by their ADHD. It helps children learn how to act and respond differently to specific situations.
Expressive therapies help children with ADHD express emotions and increase dopamine, which can improve concentration.
Psychotherapy helps older children with ADHD talk about their issues, learn how to deal with their symptoms, and explore their behavior patterns.
Family therapy can help parents and siblings better understand how to support the child and sibling in their life with ADHD.
Parent coaching can help parents learn to respond to their child’s behavior resulting from their ADHD. Parent counseling can help parents learn how to respond appropriately to their child with ADHD and guide their development.
Managing ADHD & ADD with Award Behavioral Health
At Award Behavioral Health, our ABA programs, expressive therapy, and other treatment options are designed to support children with ADHD & ADD.
If you think your child has ADHD, please contact Award Behavioral Health for a consultation.
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