Suspecting or hearing that your child has ADHD can trigger a number of feelings. It can also raise many questions. You may wonder about symptoms, evaluations and how you can help.
The journey of parenting a child with ADHD can sometimes feel lonely. But the fact is that 9 to 10 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Learning as much as you can about ADHD is a great first step to getting your child the help he needs.
What is ADHD?
A good way to understand what ADHD is to establish what it isn’t. It isn’t the result of bad parenting or of your child being lazy or disobedient. ADHD is a biological condition that makes it hard for many children to sit still and concentrate.
There are various areas of the brain that control your child’s ability to concentrate and “hit the brakes.” These areas may be less active and develop more slowly in kids with ADHD. The best evidence for this occurs in the front part of our brain, or the frontal lobe. This can upset the balance of certain brain chemicals. It can also explain why your child may have more trouble socially than his peers.
Kids don’t outgrow ADHD. The symptoms may change over time but ADHD is a lifelong condition. That doesn’t mean your child can’t be happy and successful. There are many effective strategies and treatment options you can try to manage your child’s symptoms.
Kids (and families) are all different, so not all options will work for you. It takes trial and error to see what fits your child and family. But finding the right strategies and seeing an improvement can boost everyone’s confidence.
Three Types of ADHD
For many people, the words “hyperactive” or “out of control” come to mind when they hear the term ADHD. If your child doesn’t have those symptoms, a diagnosis of ADHD can be puzzling. Kids who don’t seem hyperactive often aren’t diagnosed as early.
There are actually three types of ADHD, and one of them doesn’t include symptoms of impulsive and hyperactive behavior.
Back to the top
- ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: Kids who have this type of ADHD have symptoms of hyperactivity and feel the need to move constantly. They also struggle with impulse control.
- ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Kids who have this type of ADHD have difficulty paying attention. They’re easily distracted but don’t have issues with impulsivity or hyperactivity. This is sometimes referred to as attention-deficit disorder (or ADD).
- ADHD, Combined Presentation: This is the most common type of ADHD. Kids who have it show all of the symptoms described above.
How common is ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common childhood conditions involving the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 9 and 10 percent of kids in the U.S between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Boys are more than twice as likely girls to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.
Back to the top
What causes ADHD?
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of ADHD. But they have identified factors showing it’s a brain-based biological condition. Knowing there are medical reasons for why your child talks constantly or can’t stop daydreaming can help you see things in a different light. The possible causes of ADHD include:
Back to the top
- Genes and heredity: Studies show that AHDH runs in families—meaning it may be genetic. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, there is a significant chance that you have it too, even if you’ve never been diagnosed. As many as 35 percent of children with ADHD have a parent or sibling who also has the disorder.
- Differences in the brain: Certain areas of the brain may develop at a slower pace or be less active in kids with ADHD. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that kids with ADHD also may have lower levels of a brain chemical called dopamine that helps to regulate mood, movement and attention.
- Environmental factors: Prenatal exposure to alcohol and cigarette smoke could increase the chances of getting ADHD, says the National Institute of Mental Health. So does exposure to high levels of lead during infancy and early childhood. There’s no evidence that sugar or food additives cause ADHD. Find out more about sugar, food additives and ADHD.
- Brain injury: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a lot less common than ADHD. But ADHD-like symptoms are sometimes present in the relatively small number of kids who have TBI. Recent studies show high rates of attention problems in acquired brain injuries (such as concussion and brain tumors).
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital and Health Statistics: Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children. Rep. No. DHHS Pub. No. (PHS)-2014-xxxx. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Web. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_258.pdf
 Blum, Kenneth, Amanda L. Chen, et al. "Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and Reward Deficiency Syndrome." Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 4.5 (2008): 893–918. NCBI. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2626918/
 "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children." Johns Hopkins Medicine: Health Library. Johns Hopkins University. Web. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/mental_health_disorders/attention-deficit_hyperactivity_disorder_adhd_in_children_90%2CP02552/
 "What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?" Nimh.nih.gov. National Institute of Mental Health. Web. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/index.shtml#pub6
 Yeates, Keith O., Kira Armstrong, et al. "Long-Term Attention Problems in Children With Traumatic Brain Injury." Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 44.6 (2005): 574–84. ScienceDirect. Web. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856709616336
 "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children."
 "ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents." Pediatrics 128.5 (2011): 1007–022. American Academy of Pediatrics. Print.
 Shaw, Gina. "This Way In: ADHD Causes Motor Skill Problems." Neurology Now 7.3 (2011): 13–14. Aan.com. Web. http://tools.aan.com/elibrary/neurologynow/?event=home.showArticle&id=ovid.com:/ bib/ovftdb/01222928-201107030-00011
 "ADHD Resource Center." Aacap.org. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Web. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/
 Deb, S., AJ Dhaliwal, and M. Roy. "The Usefulness of Conners’ Rating Scales-Revised in Screening for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children With Intellectual Disabilities and Borderline Intelligence." Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 52.11 (2008): 950–65. NCBI. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18179511
 "Mental Health Guide: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder." Childmind.org. Child Mind Institute. Web. http://www.childmind.org/en/health/disorder-guide/obsessive-compulsive-disorder
 "Frequently Asked Questions: What Is ADHD?" Aacap.org. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Web. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/