I think my child may have ADHD. What should I do?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder characterized by either hyperactivity or inattention, or both, that is out of proportion to a child’s age and development. Most children with ADHD exhibit symptoms prior to age 6, and must have symptoms prior to age 12 to meet criteria for diagnosis. Their symptoms should be present in more than one setting (typically at home and at school), and must cause difficulties in those settings exhibited by poor school performance or poor behavior and relationships.

Children with hyperactive-type ADHD are often described as “driven by a motor” or “fidgety”, and can have a very difficult time sitting still in a classroom environment. They tend to be very impulsive and have a difficult time waiting their turn or exercising patience more so than would be expected for their age.

Children with inattentive-type ADHD are easily distracted and forgetful. They usually have difficulty completing homework and fall off-task unless redirected by teachers or parents. Children with this type of ADHD are sometimes diagnosed at a later age, particularly when schoolwork becomes more difficult.

If you suspect your child might have ADHD, you should first discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher and pediatrician. Your child’s teacher has a classroom full of children at your child’s same developmental level, so they can let you know if they also see issues with your child’s attention span or hyperactivity.

Most likely, your pediatrician will have you complete a questionnaire about your child’s symptoms and will have your child’s teacher complete a similar form. This, coupled with your child’s exam, helps us to arrive at the diagnosis.

We are still not entirely sure what causes ADHD. Most cases likely have a genetic basis, and we often find that it runs in families. Environmental exposures to lead or pollution, maternal drug use during pregnancy (including smoking and alcohol), along with premature delivery and low birth weight are all factors that may increase the risk of ADHD.