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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, also referred to as ADD) is a common health issue among children. While many people have heard of it, they may not fully understand what ADHD is and how it is treated. Misunderstandings are widespread.
Many people mistakenly assume that ADHD is not a true physiological disorder, but rather a new term to describe rambunctious or ill-behaved children whom teachers have difficulty controlling in school. However, ADHD refers to an authentic neurological anomaly for which there is no cure. Research indicates that people with ADHD show diminished activity in the areas of the brain that regulate impulse, memory planning and the ability to screen-out unessential thoughts and activity. Also, ADHD manifests in three behavioral categories. Some children with ADHD are primarily hyperactive and impulsive, while others are primarily inattentive; still others are all three.
There are times when every child is easily distracted, impatient or fidgety. But a child with ADHD will display these behaviors, and others, more often and with greater intensity than other children who are equal in age and emotional development.
Proper diagnosis is essential and should be conducted by a pediatrician, pediatric neurologist and/or pediatric psychiatrist working in conjunction with a pediatric psychologist and/or specialists in educational diagnostic testing. When making a diagnosis, it is important to look for symptoms in more than one setting. A trained professional also investigates the possible presence of other medical factors such as lead poisoning or hyperthyroidism.
Medical Treatment for ADHD:
Medication and Therapy for the Entire Family
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) indicates that parents need to become aware of the risks of not treating a child with ADHD. According to the AACAP, "Without proper treatment, the child may fall behind in schoolwork, and friendships may suffer. The child experiences more failure than success and is criticized by teachers and family who do not recognize a health problem."
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is usually treated with a combination of medication, behavior modification and psychodynamic therapies. Stimulants are the most common medications prescribed. If properly prescribed, these are generally considered safe with no adverse long-term effects.
When children suffer from conditions that can be helped with medications, parents typically don't hesitate to accept treatment. When a child is diagnosed as having a mental or behavioral helth problem, however, many parents have concerns and may hesitate to act.
Sandra DeJong, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital explains that, "With all medications, there are potential risks and benefits. Parents need to carefully consider if the benefits outweigh the risks." Dr. DeJong points out that the risks of not treating ADHD are decreased academic and social performance, and a deterioration of self-esteem. She adds that it is important that treatment of ADHD "does not rely solely on the use of medications."
If properly prescribed, medications are generally considered safe with no adverse long-term effects. Dr. DeJong is also quick to point out the importance that treatment of ADHD "does not rely solely on the use of medications."
Therapy should involve a child's entire family. Children with ADHD are taught appropriate social skills and effective ways to handle frustration and anger. Parents are trained to reinforce positive, rather than negative, behaviors. "Parents and siblings," states Dr. DeJong, "also benefit from therapy. Having a child with ADHD can be very taxing. Parents especially, need support and need to have a place where they can talk about the emotional impact that this disorder has on them and their entire family." It is also important that a child's family and health care providers work with the school to establish an appropriate classroom environment.
ADHD qualifies as a disability that is covered through The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which establishes a process for evaluating a child's special needs and for providing an individualized education program. The Federal Act is binding on all states. In addition, most states have laws that parallel the Act. Under the Act, parents and families of special education children have specific rights. If a child is professionally diagnosed as having AHDH, parents have the right to request an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through their child's school. The State Department of Education can provide details about a child's rights, the Act, and how to initiate and proceed in developing an IEP.
If you suspect your child may have ADHD, do not rely on the pronouncement of a teacher, childcare provider or anyone other than one or a combination of the previously mentioned experts. Talking with your pediatrician is the best place to start an evaluation process.
Research shows that if properly diagnosed and treated, children with ADHD show significant behavioral improvement. Since they do not intend to be ill behaved, inappropriately impulsive or inattentive, treatment allows them to become happier and more psychologically and socially healthy.
For more information on pediatric and psychiatric services for children at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, call 1-866-NWH-DOCS (866-694-3627).
This material is intended to provide general educational information and to help users arrange more easily for health care services. This site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice and should not be used to make a diagnosis or to replace or overrule a qualified health care provider's judgment. Nor should users rely upon this information if they need emergency medical treatment. We strongly encourage users to consult with a qualified health care professional for answers to personal questions
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