Content Reviewers:Rishi Desai, MD, MPH
ADHD, which is the abbreviation for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is the most common mental health diagnosis affecting children in America, and there are concerns about both underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis.
ADHD refers to a spectrum of behaviors.
There are genetic and environmental exposures that play a role in the development of ADHD, however, at this point in time we cannot know what specifically caused an individual child’s ADHD.
ADHD is different for everyone.
For some children ADHD causes hyperactivity, for others ADHD causes only difficulty focusing or keeping attention, and in some kids ADHD causes challenges with both.
As a result, some children with ADHD may only have challenges with inattention. They may not have disruptive behaviors but rather only struggle to keep focused on a task at hand.
Other children with ADHD are hyperactive; they often struggle to sit still, have trouble waiting, interrupt others during conversations, and have difficulty following classroom rules. In addition, they can be impulsive, make rash decisions and make careless mistakes.
Again, there are many children with ADHD who have both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.
Regardless of the symptoms, many students with ADHD can begin to fall behind in their academic work and can sometimes miss days from school because of significant behavior problems in the classroom.
To make matters worse, ADHD can take a toll on children’s friendships; their disruptive and impulsive behavior can result in being shunned or bullied by peers.
Needless to say, ADHD can be hard on children as well as their teachers and families.
The first and probably the most important step is noticing that the child can’t keep attention, something that both teachers and parents are uniquely able to do.
Teachers are very helpful in identifying children since the classroom setting is often the place where children exhibit symptoms. The expectations to pay attention and complete tasks are a central part of the school day.
Correctly diagnosing ADHD can be hard, so it’s important to bring the child to a professional for an evaluation when a parent or a teacher raises a concern. After all, there might be other causes for the symptoms.
For example a child might not be paying attention in class because they have a hearing or vision difficulty, or because they have an undiagnosed learning disability, or because they aren’t getting sufficient food or sleep at home. It can be hard to concentrate when you’re always feeling hungry.
In order to make the right diagnosis family members, school nurses, and teachers can help by providing information about child’s behavior in different environments.