Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is a common chronic medical condition that can cause individuals to suffer from difficulties staying attentive, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. The condition typically begins to develop during childhood between the ages of 3 and 6, with an average diagnosis age of 7, according to the ADD Resource Center.
ADHD is treatable and it is best to have children with the condition receive the proper care as soon as possible. However, when dealing with children this young, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to decipher the difference between a child displaying ADHD symptoms and simply expressing youthful energy.
Fortunately, the age range for development and diagnoses often coincides with children either beginning or returning to elementary school. The activities and demands of school can cause ADHD symptoms to more visibly begin to manifest, making this a crucial time for identifying and correctly diagnosing children with this condition.
If your child is beginning school and you have had suspicions of ADHD in the past, keep an eye out for some of the most common symptoms as they begin school.
Be on the lookout for children who have a hard time focusing on tasks for an extended period of time. This can become extremely evident at home when kids work on homework or other after-school work. Constantly drifting attention to other things, getting sidetracked, or just trouble finishing homework are indicators of a lack of attention.
Hyperactivity from ADHD can exhibit itself in many different ways. Be on the lookout for your child having trouble sitting still, fidgeting and listening to instructions. While they are playing at recess or the park with their friends, observe if they have difficulties playing quietly, participating in more leisurely activities as well as taking turns when in groups.
Impulsive or self-centered behavior is another common ADHD symptom that can become apparent during the school year. Look for frequent mistakes in activities that typically require planning or patience and interruptions when receiving instructions. Another impulsive behavior you may encounter is emotional swings when they become frustrated.
While you can monitor these symptoms to some extent at home, you will also need to rely on help from school as well. If you receive frequent notices from the school about these kinds of issues, take them to heart. It may also be a good idea to have regular check-ins with your child’s teacher to determine how they are performing in the classroom and if their teacher has noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Need for a thoughtful, comprehensive evaluation
Even though symptomatically a child may meet criteria for ADHD, in point of fact, you can’t make the diagnosis by just reading a checklist form that the parents (or teacher) have filled out. Nor can you accurately or reliably make the diagnosis based on a computerized continuous performance test administered by a psychologist.
There are many things that can mimic ADHD. To name a few:
- Pinworms can make kids sit in their desks and wiggle. (They itch.)
- Hearing or visual problems – sometimes never known about or diagnosed – can seriously impact a child’s learning and make them seem “clueless” in the classroom. Like they are “space cadets.”
- Hyperthyroidism (although rare in children) can wind them up and make them “hyper.”
- Children with PANDAS – (Pervasive autoimmune neurologic disorder associated with streptococcus) can manifest the trifecta of hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, and tics.
- Children with obstructive sleep apnea can have both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.
- The teacher may be flat-out boring. (This isn’t a jab at all teachers. I was a teacher, and I’m still teaching and lecturing. Both of my parents were teachers. But some teachers can be boring.) Further examination of what’s going on in the classroom is useful. Usually, one quick meeting with a teacher can give parents an idea of their level of personal dynamism and enthusiasm for teaching.
- Depression, anxiety, and PTSD in children can also be dead ringers for ADHD. And, even if an ADHD child’s life did not BEGIN with trauma, depression, or anxiety, the actual experience of having undiagnosed, untreated ADHD – where a child experiences himself or herself as a “failure” (academically and in his/her family role), a “loser,” or a “screwup” can have devastating impacts and direct the child right into a major affective disorder (anxiety or depression).
As a result, all of these things need to be teased apart to see what is actually causing the symptoms. Is it ADHD? Or is it something else?
According to accepted principals of diagnosis of ADHD, there are two things which are required: history and an exam. In the case of a psychiatric exam, psychiatrists (and other skilled mental health professionals) perform what is called a “mental status exam.” This encompasses observation of the child, interaction with the child, an assessment of the child’s ability to concentrate, to “attend”, to behave appropriately, etc.
Fortunately, once diagnosed, ADHD is very treatable for children. If any of these behaviors become a regular occurrence for your child, especially once they begin school, take them to see a professional for an evaluation. We at Cady Wellness would love the opportunity to serve you.