ADD and ADHD are common acronyms used for Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Parents of children who have been diagnosed with these conditions often receive a diagnosis and treatment as the result of a long journey through countless doctors, therapists, and specialists. To be sure, many of the symptoms of ADD and ADHD are purely symptoms of childhood. Distracted, impulsive, and forgetful are traits that can be used to describe every child at one time or another. Many parents, however, feel as though they are dealing with something more than typical child behavior. For these parents, and others, it is important to learn the signs and symptoms of ADD and ADHD.
Understanding ADD and ADHD
Children who have ADD or ADHD are often misunderstood and undiagnosed. To outsiders, it may seem as though a child is simply a “troublemaker.” Children with these conditions are biologically unable to control their impulses in regard to movement, speech, and attentiveness, and this inability is often mistaken for misbehavior. For others, however, learning to behave appropriately is merely a matter of maturity, instead of the side effect of a condition such as ADD or ADHD. Parents, teachers, and physicians must distinguish between normal kid behavior and the symptoms of these conditions in order to provide children with the help that they need.
Twitter Quote – “ADHD is a real disorder. But that doesn’t mean diagnosis is purely biological.” Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) October 16, 2013
Myths Regarding ADD and ADHD
Before you can distinguish typical child behavior from the symptoms of ADD and ADHD, it is important to dispel the many myths that you have likely heard regarding the two conditions. Some of the most common myths about ADD and ADHD include:
- Children with ADD and ADHD are extremely hyperactive. This is not always the case. Hyperactivity is often attributed to impulsivity. However, inattentiveness is also a symptom of both ADD and ADHD. In fact, many children with ADD or ADHD appear lazy and unmotivated, simply because they cannot pay attention to a task.
- Children with these conditions don’t pay attention. Children with ADD and ADHD find it difficult to pay attention to a single task. However, those with mild conditions often can focus for a short length of time, with a lot of effort.
- Kids outgrow ADD and ADHD. While some children learn to manage their symptoms as they grow and mature, many symptoms persist well into adulthood.
- Kids with ADD and ADHD need daily medication. Medication is an important part of treatment for many children with these conditions. However, it is only a small piece of the treatment puzzle, which should also include exercise, proper nutrition, education, and emotional support.
Three Symptoms to Watch
Children with ADD and ADHD often display three primary symptoms. The severity of these symptoms, as well as the need for concern, vary as a child ages. In young children, many of the symptoms are to be expected. As children age, however, parents expect the symptoms to diminish, at least in certain situations. However, children with ADD and ADHD carry these symptoms into adulthood. In many ways, these symptoms do not correlate with society’s view of children with the conditions, so it is important to understand and learn to recognize the three major signs and symptoms of ADD and ADHD. These are:
It is important to understand that not all children will display all three symptoms. Pairings of symptoms are very common. Examples of symptom variations include:
- Inattentive, but not hyperactive or impulsive. Children who display these symptoms are generally relaxed and calm, but unable to focus on a task.
- Impulsive, hyperactive, but able to focus. Children who can focus on a task but feel the constant need to move, talk, and fidget may have ADD or ADHD.
- Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. Many children who receive a diagnosis display all three major symptoms concurrently.
Symptoms of Inattention in Children
Parents and caregivers must learn to recognize the symptoms of inattention in children. Often times, children with inattentive symptoms go undiagnosed, simply because they do not fit the proverbial mold of the ADD or ADHD child. Symptoms of inattention can include:
- Lack of attention to detail
- Difficulty focusing on a task
- Frequent distraction
- The repetition of mistakes
- Difficulty listening or recalling information
- Disorganization, lack of planning
- Inability to finish a task
- Boredom with common tasks or activities
- Frequent loss of toys, clothing, homework, and other objects
Symptoms of Hyperactivity in Children
The symptoms of hyperactivity are often the first to be recognized in children with ADD and ADHD. Symptoms of hyperactivity can include:
- Excessive talking
- Constant movement
- Inability to sit still or to stay in one’s seat
- Climbing or running where inappropriate
- Difficulty playing quietly or resting
- Always moving and active
- Short tempered or quick to anger
Symptoms of Impulsivity in Children
Children are known to be impulsive. They talk and touch out of turn and when it is not appropriate. However, most children learn to control their impulses as they age. Children with ADHD constantly struggle with many symptoms of impulsivity, including:
- Action without thinking
- Offering answers in class without waiting to hear the question or to be called upon to answer
- Inability to wait in line or to wait one’s turn
- Interrupting others frequently
- Intrusion on the activities or conversations of others
- Inappropriate words or conversations
- Inability to control emotions, resulting in temper tantrums
- Frequent guessing, rather than taking time to find an answer
Other Conditions that You Need to Consider
There are many conditions, both biological and psychological, that can be mistaken for ADD and ADHD. As a parent, it is important to consider alternate sources for your child’s behavior and actions. These may include:
- Learning disabilities
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Neurological conditions
- Thyroid conditions
- Sleep disorders
Whether or not your child is eventually diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, it is important to remember that there are many treatment options available. Work with your child’s doctors and specialists to develop a plan of treatment that is appropriate for your child and your family.
“There are many positives with ADD, including a surplus of ideas, creativity, excitement, and interest which accompany this kind of mind.” – Sari Solden
Books and References
Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder
Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, Dr. John J. Ratey
Superparenting for ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child
Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, Peter S. Jensen