Understanding ADHD: A Guide for Parents, Part One
U.S. Government statistics show that between two and three million American school children suffer from some form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. By way of perspective, that translates to one child in every classroom of twenty five to thirty students.
ADHD is a development disorder. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a chronic neurological (related to the nervous system) disorder with no known cure. The exact cause is not fully understood, though several promising theories have come to light in recent years. ADHD typically emerges as children begin to attend preschool or sometimes kindergarten. Boys are more than three times likely to suffer from its effects than girls. There is a genetic factor to consider as well: most ADHD children have a close relative who also struggles with the disorder, and ADHD men are more than three times likely to pass it onto their children. Though in some cases the disorder fades as children mature, sixty percent of all ADHD children will continue to experience symptoms as adults.
The three types of ADHD The condition formerly known as Attention Deficit Disorder was expanded to ADHD in 1994, incorporating a new set of guidelines used in its diagnosis. ADHD children are said to fall into one of three groups:
- An inattentive type will struggle to maintain his attention. He will typically avoid tasks requiring mental organization and has trouble following directions. He often seems distracted and will misplace or lose personal items.
- A hyperactive-impulsive type is typically restless, fidgety, and impatient. He often talks incessantly or feels compelled to run ahead of groups or "act out."
- A combined type, which is the most common diagnosis, shows signs from the above two groups.
In order to avoid a flawed diagnosis, evaluators will make sure the child's symptoms are of sufficient duration and severity, and whether they appeared before the child turned seven years old. The problems experienced must impact at least two areas of a child’s life (school, friends, et cetera). Other stress factors, such as relocation to a new community, divorce, or similar upheaval, must also be rooted out as a factor. Anxiety and depression, whose symptoms can often mirror ADHD problems, must be ruled out as well before an official diagnosis will be given.
The potential causes are complex, hard to understand. Most research indicates a problem or deficiency with the brain's ability produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which assists in the communication of signals from parts of the brain to each other and to the body. Other studies indicate the brain's ability to manufacture dopamine at all may also play a role. Recent research suggests children with ADHD have brains that are five to ten percent smaller in some physical areas than children not diagnosed. A survey by the National Institute of Mental Health showed many areas of the brain responsible for attention span, concentration and voluntary motor function actually grow much slower in ADHD children, sometimes at a rate up to five years behind the rest of the population.