“A child with ADHD tends to be more impulsive, hyperactive and/or distractible on tasks where other children their age can sit still and focus,” says Irene Koolwijk, MD, MPH, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician in Westwood and Santa Monica. These behaviors are persistent, lasting over six months across a variety of settings, such as at home and in school or during sports practice. Other signs include excessive chattiness, forgetfulness, daydreaming and difficulty getting along with others.
While toddlers can show signs of ADHD, most children are diagnosed at around age 7, when behaviors at school become more evident and problematic. Sometimes, ADHD is overlooked until the teen years or young adulthood.
There isn’t a definitive test, such as a blood test, to diagnose ADHD. However, your child’s doctor can gauge whether or not ADHD is causing your child’s struggles by having you, your child’s teacher and any other caregivers complete a standardized behavior checklist. Your doctor uses this information, as well as guidelines established by the American Psychiatric Association, to aid diagnosis. “It’s important to get a professional evaluation because many other problems, including anxiety, depression, hearing and vision issues, and learning disabilities, share similar symptoms or may coexist along with ADHD,” Dr. Koolwijk says.
Experts are not sure why some children develop ADHD. Genetics may play a role, which means your child’s chances of having ADHD are greater if one or both parents have it. Gender also seems to be a factor, with boys up to three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls, says Nathan Samras, MD, a pediatric specialist in Beverly Hills. While consuming too much sugar, watching too much television, family stress and trauma may worsen ADHD symptoms in some children, they are not themselves a cause, he says.
Most children respond well to a combination of medication, school interventions and behavior therapy — in which both the child and parent participate. Stimulant medications have been shown to reduce symptoms in up to 80 percent of children with ADHD. These medications boost neurotransmitters in the brain that help process information. Support from a child’s school is equally important. Some children with ADHD benefit from Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) designed to meet specific learning needs.