If you’re a parent who has seen statistics about the skyrocketing number of children and teens diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and have a child who seems to bounce off the walls all the time, you may be considering whether to have him or her evaluated.
But before you meet with your primary care provider, one UNLV pediatric psychologist has some information you should know.
Ronald T. Brown has spent decades researching and working with families navigating ADHD diagnoses as a professor, and now is dean for the School of Allied Health Sciences at UNLV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children in the United States aged 4 to 17 with an ADHD diagnoses increased by 42 percent between 2003 and 2011. But Brown says there are signs parents should watch for before calling the doctor.
“The key to determining if your child has the disorder is the consistent demonstration of at least six specific traits for a minimum of six months, and in two settings such as at home and at school,” Brown said. “Also, the traits must be impairing how your child functions, and cause him or her to fall behind the normal development for his or her age.”
ADHD occurs in young people as well as in adults, and is considered a "long-course disorder" — meaning that although it had been common lore that children outgrew the disorder once they reached adolescence, studies have shown that it may persist throughout the lifespan. ADHD also runs in families. Frequently, parents of children diagnosed with ADHD also have the disorder, which makes managing the traits of their offspring more challenging.
Ultimately, Brown said, an ADHD diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation by a health care provider or mental health professional who has expertise in assessing and managing the disorder.
Brown said those with ADHD exhibit multiple traits within three primary symptom categories: Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. “Some people have problems within one of the groups,” he said, and “others exhibit characteristics within two or three.”
Within the inattention symptom group, traits may include:
- Having a hard time paying attention to details and a tendency to make careless mistakes.
- Having trouble staying on topic while talking, not listening to others, and not following social rules.
- Being easily distracted by things such as trivial noises that are usually ignored by others.
Within the hyperactivity symptom group, traits may include:
- Fidgeting and squirming when seated.
- Getting up frequently to walk or run around.
- Running or climbing frequently at inappropriate times.
- Having trouble playing quietly
Within the impulsivity symptom group, traits may include:
- Having a hard time waiting for a turn.
- Blurting out answers before someone finishes asking them a question.
- Frequently interrupting or intruding on others.
- Starting conversations at inappropriate times.
“Many of these symptoms happen from time to time in all youngsters and sometimes among adults,” Brown said. “The difference between an active, imaginative child and one diagnosed with ADHD is functional impairment. Those with the disorder may have consistently poor academic performance, trouble interacting with peers and friends, and even challenges at home.”
Although there’s no single test for properly diagnosing ADHD, Brown recommends that if you have concerns or notice multiple traits within two or more settings, consult your health care provider who specializes in ADHD such as a pediatrician, psychologist, and psychiatrist.