I'm worried my child has ADHD

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Most parents will at some point have wondered where their children get their seemingly endless energy from, or despaired at trying to hold an inquisitive youngster’s interest for longer than two minutes. Lots of energy and a short attention span are typical childhood traits, but how do you know when it’s something more than just restlessness or boredom – such as ADHD?

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more than just very active children; they also have a range of other problems and behaviours which can make them difficult to manage and care for. They may have trouble fitting in at school and problems socialising with other children so it’s important that ADHD is identified and treated as soon as possible to help minimise some of the difficulties associated with the condition.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is actually now the most common behavioural disorder in the UK, estimated to affect two to five per cent of young people and children of school age. While there is no cure, it can be managed with educational support, therapies and treatments.

Diagnosing ADHD, however, is not always straightforward because young children are naturally active and easily distracted. But if these traits seem excessive and start to affect daily life, they may indicate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. While ADHD occurs in those of any intellectual ability, it often goes hand in hand with learning difficulties. Sufferers may also have problems sleeping.


Symptoms of ADHD are usually categorised into two sets of behavioural problems: inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Children may be predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination – known as ADHD combined, which is the most common type. Those who are mainly inattentive but not hyperactive or impulsive may have attention deficit disorder (ADD).  To put this into more simple terms, there are a range of symptoms associated with each behavioural problem that parents should be looking out for.

The main symptoms of inattentiveness, for example, include a short attention span, being easily distracted, making careless mistakes, appearing forgetful, being unable to listen or carry out instructions, being unable to concentrate and difficulty organising tasks.

For hyperactivity, the main symptoms include: an inability to sit still, constant fidgeting, inability to settle to tasks, excessive physical movement and excessive talking.

The main symptoms of impulsiveness are being unable to wait for a turn, acting without thinking, interrupting conversations and little or no sense of danger.

If your child has ADHD it is likely that the symptoms will have become noticeable before the age of seven and most cases are diagnosed between three and seven. It is more commonly diagnosed in boys.


How do we get a diagnosis?

There’s no simple test to determine whether a child has ADHD, but if you have any concerns at all you should see your GP. The doctor will ask a range of questions about the symptoms and whether they are affecting day to day life and if there is a family history of ADHD or similar conditions. You may then be referred to a specialist such as a child psychologist, paediatrician or mental health service.

There is no cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but treatment in the form of therapies, diet, sleep management, exercise and if necessary, medication, can help manage the symptoms. Some children grow out of it and around two in five with a diagnosis of ADHD continue to have problems into adulthood.


Treatments include psychotherapy, behaviour therapy, parent training and education programmes, social skills training and cognitive behaviour therapy. Some people also find cutting out certain foods, taking particular supplements and regular exercise are beneficial in the management of ADHD, but there is no medical evidence to support these findings and professional advice should always be sought.

Medication can help reduce a child’s difficulties by making them concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer and learn new skills. However, the drugs used are very powerful and all come with their own side effects and therefore need to be carefully considered.

As it stands, the exact cause of ADHD is not known but research shows it often runs in families and could be a result of differences in the way the brain works in people with the condition. It is thought message-carrying chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, do not work properly in people with ADHD. Other potential risk factors include smoking and drinking during pregnancy, being male, excessive exposure to television, being born prematurely and sustaining brain damage in the womb or during the first few years of life.

Help and advice is available from a range of support groups and charities, as well as the medical






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