What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a treatable neurobiological condition, resulting in difficulties with impulsiveness, attention span and often, but not always, hyperactivity. It is estimated to affect between 3 and 5% of children. While many children have lots of energy and can find it hard to concentrate, a child with ADHD will display this behaviour constantly and the problem is much more extreme. As a result they may find it difficult to fit in at school. The problem may continue into adulthood if a child with ADHD does not get the help they need.
What are the Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
The following behaviours are characteristic of ADHD and usually occur before the age of seven:
- Difficulty remaining seated when asked to do so.
- Easily distracted.
- Difficulty awaiting turn in games or group situations.
- Often blurts out answers to questions.
- Difficulty following instructions.
- Difficulty sustaining attention.
- Often shifts from one incomplete activity to another.
- Difficulty playing quietly.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others.
- Often does not seem to listen.
- Often loses things.
Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering the consequences. Onset of ADHD may be from as young as 18 months; however the condition is often not noticeable until around age 5, when the child starts primary school.
What are the Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
While the cause of ADHD is not certain, research has shown that certain areas of the brain work more slowly in children with ADHD. Genetic factors are thought to be involved as ADHD tends to run in families. Head trauma or complications at birth resulting in injury to the brain have also been implicated in the development of ADHD; however these are only thought to be factors in a few cases. Cigarette smoke and alcohol abuse during pregnancy may also be linked to development of ADHD in the child. Food allergies, excess sugar, poor home life and watching too much TV are not thought to be factors in the development of ADHD.
Traditional Medical Treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
There is no single, simple treatment. Instead, treatment comprises a combination of medication (mainly psychostimulants and antidepressants), parent training, child and parent counselling and a special education environment. Some alternative and controversial treatments have been suggested – for example, dietary intervention, vitamin supplementation and optometric vision training – but there is no scientific evidence to support these theories. Some parents worry that medication may sedate their children or make them feel ‘dopey’. However when used correctly, this should not happen. In fact, it will often make children more focused and alert. Medication may not help in a small number of cases. If your child does experience negative side effects, this may be because the medication itself does not suit them, the dosage is wrong or the interval between doses is wrong. Drug-free interventions that have been shown to be effective include educational interventions, behaviour modification, parent training and anger management
Complementary/Alternative Treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Alternative treatments often include neurofeedback, homeopathy, herbal medicines, iron supplements, and dietary modifications or supplements. Although anecdotal and empirical evidence is surfacing to support the efficacy of these alternatives, further research is needed before they can be regarded as effective, reliable treatments for ADHD. Therefore, the use of more conventional treatments should be considered if alternative interventions prove unsuccessful.