ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder meaning the problem affects brain function. It can be explained as an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that control, among other things, vigilance, attention, motivation and memory. Children who have ADHD generally have problems sustaining attention (difficulty concentrating) and are hyperactive (difficulty controlling themselves). ADHD is common. It is estimated that between 5 and 12% of school-aged children have the disorder - it is somewhat more common in boys (8-10%) than in girls (3-4%).
Medical research has led to improved management and diagnosis of this disorder. A great deal of media attention and attention in general has been focused on ADHD in recent years. This has resulted in the misleading and erroneous impression that cases of ADHD are on the rise. In reality, professionals have gained a much better understanding of the disorder and resources are more readily available.
Although science has not yet been able to provide all the answers, we do know that this disorder is caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors.
ADHD is characterized by a combination of symptoms that can be divided into three categories: hyperactivity, attention deficit and impulsivity.
ADHD is divided into three categories based on symptoms:
- ADHD-Inattentive - if the primary symptoms are attention deficit.
- ADHD-Hyperactive-Impulsive: if the primary symptoms are hyperactivity and impulsivity.
- ADHD-Combined: If all the symptoms are present. This is the most common type of ADHD.
As they grow older, about 80% of teenagers and 60% of adults will continue to experience persistent disruptive symptoms. These symptoms however, may change over time. For example, a person with ADHD may become less hyperactive but will experience increased attention deficit.
Children are typically diagnosed around the age of 7 years. A physical examination is usually the first step as it will help rule out any medical conditions. Diagnosis is then based on the observation of symptoms. These symptoms must interfere with a person's normal activities. Children must be observed at home and in another setting. Symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and some of the symptoms must have been present before age 6. Additional examinations may also be requested.
Another important step is to determine whether or not the child has a learning disability. Proper treatment is a collaborative effort that involves teachers/psychoeducators/parents/and health care professionals.
When it comes to treating ADHD, there are two elements that are vital: psychosocial treatment and the regular use of medication. Research has clearly revealed that medication alone is not enough.
Psychosocial treatment can take many forms. It can involve behavioural changes at home and at school. Parents can arrange to meet with a specialized teacher or psychologist, alone, with the entire family or in a group setting. Family members are also encouraged to learn about the disorder to gain a better understanding of what they are dealing with. All these steps will have a significant impact on the child and the family.
As for the medication aspect of treatment, stimulants are the most effective and most commonly used medication for ADHD. They help manage symptoms by acting directly on the chemical messengers in the brain. Long-acting formulations help keep the child focused throughout the day, without having to take medication at school. Other drugs can also be prescribed. During treatment, it is important to assess whether the medication is having an effect on symptoms for proper monitoring of efficacy.
Some parents, often out of fear of creating dependency, hesitate when faced with the idea of giving medication to their child. In fact, the medications that are used do not lead to dependency. Furthermore, they can help the child complete activities that otherwise, would have been difficult and even impossible for them to complete.
For more information or for support:
Center for ADD/ADHD advocacy Canada (in English only)
Regroupement des associations de parents PANDA du Québec (in French only)