Tamara Zach, MD, is a pediatric neurologist on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Ariz.
Question: What symptoms do doctors look for when diagnosing a child for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and what kind of prognosis can be expected?
Answer: The number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has increased during the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although some might interpret this to mean ADHD is becoming more prevalent in children, others – like myself – believe that this increase in diagnoses may actually be the result of greater awareness and recognition of the condition. In fact, the number of children with ADHD is likely higher than reported due to the fact that there are still many kids out there with symptoms that may never be properly addressed.
The core symptoms of ADHD are inappropriate and disruptive degrees of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that impair the child’s ability to function properly in social, academic, and familial settings. Accordingly, gathering information from caregivers, teachers, and parents is helpful in determining a diagnosis. Based on the presence and evaluation of specific symptoms, as well as a full physical examination to rule out other conditions that may impact a child’s behavior, health care providers can arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
It’s important that ADHD is taken seriously. Children with ADHD, especially when left untreated, are at higher risk for defiance, antisocial personality, risk-taking behaviors, and substance abuse in adolescence and adulthood.
Half of children with ADHD will outgrow it. Others will require ongoing monitoring. As we learn more about ADHD, we continue to find valuable approaches for managing symptoms, such as behavioral and medicinal therapies. Effective techniques aimed toward behavior modification include positive reinforcement, establishing a rewards system, and channeling the child’s focus and energy towards areas in which he or she excels. Medicinal therapies, which should be accompanied by a behavioral plan, include both stimulant and non-stimulant medications.
If you suspect or recognize symptoms of ADHD in your child, or if you have a child with ADHD whose symptoms are not well controlled, contact your child’s healthc are provider.