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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is also called by its initials ADHD, is a group of problem behaviors that interfere with daily life. As the name says, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder includes two different kinds of problems:

  • Those that have to do with not being able to pay attention
  • Those connected to very active, impulsive behaviors

Some people with ADHD have both kinds of problems; others have only the attention problems or only the very high activity, impulse problems. Both children and adults can have ADHD. It is the most common behavior problem in children. About 3-7% of school-age children have ADHD. About four times as many boys as girls have ADHD. About 50% of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a learning disability.

A child with ADHD shows many of the following behaviors in two or more settings (for example, home and school) for at least six months:

  • Trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Difficulty organizing activities
  • Distractibility
  • Failure to finish most tasks
  • High activity level
  • Cannot sit still
  • Impulsivity, acting without thinking
  • Cannot wait for a turn
  • Interrupts

Many children do some of these things occasionally. If a child shows a pattern of not being able to pay attention and/or of very active, impulsive behavior over several months, the child should be evaluated for ADHD. An evaluation can be done by your pediatrician, a child psychologist or a child psychiatrist.

If a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and does not get treatment, the child may develop the following problems:

  • Poor performance with school work and may fail one or more classes
  • Trouble getting along with other children and with adults
  • Difficulties with family members
  • Get hurt more often than other children
  • Over time, may develop low self-esteem, depression and anxiety
  • More likely to get into trouble with the law
  • As an adult, may not do well on the job

What causes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

There are several things that scientists believe may cause ADHD. ADHD runs in families, so it may sometimes be caused, at least in part, by genetics. About half of the parents who had ADHD as children have a child who has ADHD.

Research has found differences in the way the brains of children with ADHD work. This may mean that brain chemistry is a cause of ADHD. There is also some research that connects ADHD to complications in pregnancy, including a mother who smoked or was exposed to lead.

How can Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Be Treated?

There are effective treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The first step is a complete evaluation by your pediatrician, a child psychiatrist or a child psychologist. There is no “test” for ADHD. The evaluation includes a careful history, diagnostic interviews of the child and the parents, and questionnaires about the child’s behavior filled out by the child’s teachers and parents.

The two main kinds of treatments for ADHD are medications (also called pharmacological treatments) and behavior therapies.

The medications most often used are called “stimulants”. They are the most effective way to reduce hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Medications work for 75% to 90% of children.

Behavior therapies help parents, teachers and children manage problem behaviors and teach children to get along better with both adults and children. A combination of medications and behavior therapies is usually the most effective way to treat ADHD.

The sections below provide links to web sites that give additional information about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well as a link to Westchester County Mental Health Services, a database which includes local service providers for treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Additional Information About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

CHADD Online (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder)
CHADD is the largest national organization for ADHD. It was founded by in 1987 by parents of children with ADHD. This site has thorough and easy-to-read information for parents about ADHD in children, as well as information about ADHD in adults. It also gives information about the educational rights of children with ADHD. The telephone number for CHADD is 954-587-3700.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
This site has technical information about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. It describes the current research on ADHD.

National Institute of Mental Health
This section has a clear summary of ADHD. It gives information on how families can recognize ADHD and get the help they need.

Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
This site contains the report from the U.S. Surgeon General on Mental Health published in December 1999. Chapter Three, which is on Children’s Mental Health, has a section on ADHD. This section gives a good summary of the issues related to the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, including a lot of information on medications, different kinds of behavioral treatments and treatment controversies.