The next time you drop off your child at preschool or grammar school, take a good, long look at the swarm of happy children in the playground. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every ten of those kids will have had a diagnosis of ADHD before the age of 17.
The classic portrayal of a child with ADHD is a whirling, energetic dervish who struggles to pay attention, rarely finishes his assignments, and succumbs to strong emotional impulses: In other words, a seemingly typical preschooler. The difference is that ADHD is not a phase that a child matures out of. It’s a chronic condition involving a unique brain wiring that makes it challenging, even for the brightest and most inquisitive of kids, to focus, improve social interactions, and maximize academic performance. Fortunately, by embracing behavioral modification techniques and perhaps medication, most children with ADHD are able to reach their true potential.
The three major classes of symptoms that define ADHD involve attention and focus issues, hyperactivity, and difficulties with impulse control. These symptoms are most commonly manifested in the following behavioral signs.
- Inability to repeat verbal instructions or difficulty in following multi-step instructions
- Difficulty in finishing homework, chores, and projects
- Careless mistakes, like missing a page on a test
- Difficulty in organizing priorities, keeping track of due dates, or a tendency to forget necessary items, such as leaving shoes and coats behind, etc.
- Easily distracted by outside stimuli like “itchy” tags on clothes, the tap of a branch on a window, or the hissing of a radiator
- Fidgeting, fussing, or squirming when forced to sit still, or generally struggling with quiet activities
- Running, scrambling, climbing, yelling, and other energetic outbursts at inappropriate times
- Non-stop chatting, difficulty being quiet
- Interrupting adult and children’s conversations and games
- Trouble taking turns or staying in line, often combined with emotional outbursts
Generally, ADHD comes in three major types depending on the prevalence, severity, and mixture of symptoms. To be diagnosed with one of the three, children have to exhibit multiples of the above signs for at least six months, and those symptoms must show an impact on the child’s academic performance and social interactions. This is why most children aren’t diagnosed until about the age of seven, when the child is old enough to be tested and the developmental milestones that usually mark a modification of some these behaviors have passed.
If you suspect that your child may be struggling with the unique challenges of ADHD, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a mental health professional. The sooner the diagnosis, the quicker you can get your child the help she needs.