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Understanding Attention Deficit Disorder

By Genie Price 

Has your child recently been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and you are wanting to know a little more about it? 

What it is and how will it affect my child? Did I cause this?  

Understandably, there will be one hundred questions you are wanting to know the answers to, and hopefully, we can shed some light on some of the most frequently asked questions.  

About ADHD:  

Described as the most common neurobehavioural disorder of childhood, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, formerly referred to as ADD) is believed to affect up to 15% of the Australian community, with a report published in the Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being suggesting as high as 6.8% of those affected are from the early years with the remaining being adolescents. 

ADHD affects the brain and one study suggests that those affected by ADHD have 3-4% smaller brains than those without the disorder. The study identified that children with more severe ADHD symptoms had smaller frontal lobes, temporal grey matter, caudate nucleus, and cerebellum, parts, all of which are related to a problem area for children with ADHD, such as concentration, impulse control, inhibition, and motor activity.  

Leading facts:  

1)    Let’s get straight to it – ADHD is real.  

Although there has been much speculation about the above statement, it has been noted throughout the significant amounts of research undertaken by scientists and other medical professionals, since the early 80’S that ADHD is a brain-based disorder which challenges the lives of many, and it does exist.   

If you hear from someone that “it’s all in your head” or “that’s not a real disorder” – remind them that in actual fact, ADHD, along with many other disorders – is real.  

2)    ADHD is a common, non-discriminatory disorder – meaning; 

ADHD is highly prevalent in Australia with 3-5 children out of 100 being affected. It is genetic, but that does not mean you will pass it on to your child – what that means is, however, the chances of doing so are higher, but it’s not necessarily the case.  

ADHD can affect both genders and is present in males more so than females. It affects both children and adults alike and is found among all socioeconomic backgrounds and grants itself in people of any age, race or religion. 

3)    Other conditions do co-exist alongside ADHD.  

  • Unfortunately, up to half of the children diagnosed with ADHD, will have other conditions alongside it such as Autism, a sensory processing disorder or oppositional defiance disorder 
  • Experts indicate that for up to 70% of those affected (adults included) with ADHD, will be treated for depression and anxiety at some point in their lives 
  • Sleep disorders are also a known disturbance in those affected by ADHD, significantly more so – than for children and adults without it. 

Types of ADHD:  

There are 3 types of ADHD (including some symptoms):  

  • Inattentive ADHD means a child is easily distracted and inattentive yet not hyperactive or impulsive. 
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD occurs when a child has symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity but can maintain adequate levels of concentration. 
  • Combined ADHD is where a child has a mixture of symptoms including hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. 

Symptoms of ADHD:  

Symptoms are varied and no one child who presents with ADHD will be like another. 

If you or anyone else you know has suspicions about your/their child’s ongoing attention and hyperactivity issues, clustered with some of the other signs listed, go with your gut and seek out specialist intervention as early as possible.   

Though there may be similarities in traits between children with ADHD, not all children are the same.  

Some of the signs may include:  

  • A child’s inability to maintain attention and concentration as well as being unable to complete tasks fully 
  • Problems with being impulsive, overactive and irritable – often characterised as a child interrupting others while speaking, “flitting” from one task to another without completing and rushing school work 
  • Children with ADHD are noticeably more active or “on the go” than others  
  • Some children who have ADHD have limited social skills, meaning they may have trouble getting along with peers or be disruptive in both the home setting and at school  
  • Some children display restlessness and are often unable to sit for long periods 
  • Children who display symptoms of ADHD can also be unorganised and hard to motivate at times 

Causes of ADHD: 

ADHD is not a disease like shingles nor does it have a single known cause.  

A study conducted by The Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University confirms that ADHD is not caused by poor or “bad” parenting, family problems, poor teachers or schools, overstimulation and too much TV, food allergies, or excess sugar.  

However, the factors that appear to increase a child’s likelihood of having the disorder include; 

  • gender 
  • family history and genetics 
  • prenatal risks 
  • environmental toxins  
  • physical differences in the brain 

ADHD is best known as a label used to describe a range of behaviours which are present in a person, not the person themselves and as above, there may be any number of underlying causes for this. 

Testing for ADHD:  

It’s important to work collaboratively with specialists and professionals familiar with the disorder during the process of diagnosing ADHD. 

Working with the right team of specialists will ensure a thorough and extensive assessment is completed and the correct services and resources for your needs will be recommended for moving forward. 

Diagnoses can be reached using a range of methods such as:  

  • extensive interview procedures 
  • behaviour and symptom rating skills 
  • third party observations at both school and at home and by  
  • Obtaining a comprehensive history of your family background. 

Other means of testing for ADHD include:  

  • Psychological testing 
  • Cognitive and educational testing 

If a diagnosis does not present clear-cut, specialists may suggest diagnostic testing which measures brain wave activity and can give a much clearer picture if necessary.  

How can specialists tell if it is ADHD?  

Not everyone who displays the above symptoms will have ADHD. Since many of us blurt out things we don’t mean to say, do not complete tasks or we move quickly from one task to another – in order to assess whether a child has ADHD specialists will ask:  

  • Are these behaviours excessive, long-term and pervasive?  
  • Do they occur more than in other people the same age?  
  • Are the behaviours a temporary response to a situation or are they ongoing?  

These criteria are then measured against that of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version IV and a diagnosis may, therefore, be met. 

Treatment:  

ADHD is treatable and there are varied management options available.  

Research shows that a mixture of therapy and medication based treatment options can lead to successful management of ADHD in your child.  

Your options for treatment can include some of the following:  

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy has been a successful method for treating ADHD.  
  • Medication has improved behaviours in up to 75% of children with ADHD 
  • Relaxation and mindfulness techniques have supported children with ADHD to learn control 
  • Parent/teacher collaboration helps to achieve successful outcomes 
  • Social skills group training has enabled those with ADHD to fit in better among peers 

Any decision you make regarding the treatment options for your child, should be carefully discussed.  

All relevant parties involved i.e. your psychologist, your child’s teacher as well as yourself should input into any treatment and management plan, which should then be implemented carefully and positively. 

There is no “quick fix” for the journey ahead and patience and persistence play a pivotal role. Early detection is also critical.  

No one said having children was an easy task, and for some of us, being the parents of a child with special needs, can be even more challenging – so why not work together to raise them so your time as a parent can be a fun and rewarding experience. 

NB: ADHD is a complex subject to understand. The above information is a guide only. For further information pertaining to symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options available to you, please see the links below. 

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