Does My Child Have ADHD or is He Just “Busy”?

As a parent, are you beginning to hear these phrases about your child? ”If only he’d pay attention he could do well.” Or “She’s so bright, but she just doesn’t finish her work.” Or perhaps, “He wastes a lot of time.” With the start of the school year, many parents and teachers begin questioning whether some of their children or students are displaying symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD has received a lot of attention in recent years, and has stirred up quite a bit of debate among parents and professionals who work with children. One of the causes for the debate is that, unfortunately, there is not one conclusive “test” for ADHD. It is diagnosed by determining whether or not a child, or adult, meets certain specific criteria for the disorder. This criteria is as follows:

1. Is the child displaying behavioral difficulties in 2 or more environments? For example, school and home . If the behaviors are present in only 1 environment, we must look for other possible causes of the behavior.

2. Is the child showing at least 6 symptoms of inattention such as:

  • Does not listen
  • Does not follow through
  • Is disorganized
  • Easily distracted
  • Often forgetful
  • Often loses things
  • Avoids tasks that require sustained effort


Is the child showing at least 6 symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity such as:

  • Often fidgets
  • Leaves seat
  • Restless
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Always on the go
  • Talks excessively
  • Acts without thinking

3. Have these symptoms been evident for at least 6 months?

4. Did the symptoms begin before the child was 7 years old?

5. Have other possible causes of the behavior been ruled out? Such as medical conditions, or situations that could be causing the child to be anxious or stressed.

An answer of YES to ALL of these questions means that the child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD.  A typical child that is just “busy” is likely to meet some of this criteria,
but not all of it.

What Causes ADHD?

The cause of ADHD is still a mystery.  However there are risk factors for
ADHD. These risk factors include:

  • A family history of ADHD or other behavioral or mood disorders.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs during pregnancy.
  • Premature birth.
  • Maternal exposure to toxins.

Coexisting Conditions with ADHD

Children with ADHD are more likely than other children to also have other mental health conditions. These conditions include:

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), a pattern of negative, defiant behavior toward authority figures.
  • Conduct Disorder, a more serious condition than ODD. A youth with Conduct Disorder displays antisocial behavior such as stealing, fighting, destroying the property of others.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety, ADHD may cause children excessive worry.

ADHD Can Make Life Difficult for Children

Children with ADHD are more likely than other kids to:

  • Have trouble getting along with other kids and adults.
  • Struggle academically.
  • Have more accidents and injuries.
  • Have a higher risk of drug or alcohol abuse, and other delinquent behavior.

We Have a Diagnosis.  Now What?

After your child has been appropriately diagnosed, the next step is to get the best treatment plan for him or her. Studies show that a combination of behavior therapy and medication is the best approach and more effective than medication alone. An ideal treatment plan would include the following:

  • Education about ADHD for the child and caregivers.
  • Psychological Intervention for the child
  • Possible treatment with medication
  • School and classroom interventions

Using Medications to Treat ADHD

Medications used to treat ADHD generally fall into one of two categories– Stimulant medications and Non stimulant medications. Stimulant medications are often highly effective for treating ADHD and include Daytrana, Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall.
Sometimes these medications can cause side effects such as a decrease in appetite, weight loss, problems sleeping, and irritability as the medication wears off. If stimulants are not helpful or cause significant side effects, non –stimulants are often tried. Non-stimulants include medications such as Strattera. It may take time for your physician to find the best medication and dosage. It is not unusual for adjustments to be made.

Practical Tips for Parents and Caregivers

There are many things parents and caregivers can do to help their child effectively manage his or her ADHD symptoms:

  • Practice patience!
  • Put into place a regular schedule for meals, naps and bedtimes and be consistent.
  • Prepare the child for transitions. i.e. “In 15 minutes it will be bath time.”
  • Make sure he/she gets enough rest.
  • Provide structure and organization i.e. Go through and clean out backpacks nightly. Get out clothes the night before.
  • Avoid rushing. These are not children that you will be able to rush without a struggle! Give
  • yourself extra time.
  • Give simple, one step directions and make eye contact while doing so.
  • Reduce distractions when giving directions. i.e. Cut off the t.v. or computer while giving directions to your child. Have him/her repeat the directions back to you. No multi-tasking!
  • Use appropriate and consistent limit setting. (Click here for a fabulous limit setting technique.)
  • Partner with your child’s school and teacher to put into place effective classroom intervention

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