People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. Although there is not a cure for ADHD, it can be successfully managed and some symptoms may improve as the child ages.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.
Signs and Symptoms
It is normal for children to have trouble focusing and behaving at one time or another. However, children with ADHD do not just grow out of these behaviors. The symptoms continue, can be severe, and can cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends.
A child with ADHD might:
- daydream a lot
- forget or lose things a lot
- squirm or fidget
- talk too much
- make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
- have a hard time resisting temptation
- have trouble taking turns
- have difficulty getting along with others
There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
- Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.
Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.
Deciding if a child has ADHD is a process with several steps. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other problems, like anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. One step of the process involves having a medical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other problems with symptoms like ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD usually includes a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms and taking a history of the child from parents, teachers, and sometimes, the child.
If you are concerned about whether a child might have ADHD, the first step is to talk with a healthcare provider to find out if the symptoms fit the diagnosis. The diagnosis can be made by a mental health professional, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, or by a primary care provider, like a pediatrician.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that healthcare providers ask parents, teachers, and other adults who care for the child about the child’s behavior in different settings, like at home, school, or with peers.
The healthcare provider should also determine whether the child has another condition that can either explain the symptoms better, or that occurs at the same time as ADHD.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
Healthcare providers use the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to help diagnose ADHD. This diagnostic standard helps ensure that people are appropriately diagnosed and treated for ADHD. Using the same standard across communities can also help determine how many children have ADHD, and how public health is impacted by this condition.
What About School?
Success in school often means being able to pay attention and control behavior and impulse. These are the areas where children with ADHD have trouble.
There are many ways the school can help students with ADHD. Some students may be eligible to receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ADHD is specifically mentioned under IDEA’s disability category of “Other Health Impairment” (OHI).
Regardless of the eligibility determination (yes or no), the school and the child’s parents need to meet and talk about what special help the student needs. Most students with ADHD are helped by supports or changes in the classroom (called accommodations or modifications).
If you or your doctor has concerns about ADHD, you can take your child to a specialist such as a child psychologist or developmental pediatrician, or you can contact EarlySteps, Louisiana’s early intervention program (for children under 3), or public school (for children 3 and older).
Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans can assist you in navigating services through EarlySteps, the public school system, and provide you with additional supports if needed. Please call us for assistance at 504-888-9111, toll-free 1-800-766-7736, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for Parents
- Learn about ADHD. The more you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. The organizations listed under “Additional Information” (at the end of this fact sheet) can help you learn more about the disability.
- Praise your child when he or she does well. Build your child’s abilities. Talk about and encourage his or her strengths and talents.
- Be clear, be consistent, and be positive. Set clear rules for your child. Tell your child what he or she should do, not just what she should not do. Be clear about what will happen if your child does not follow the rules. Have a reward program for good behavior. Praise your child when he or she shows the behaviors you like.
- Learn about strategies for managing your child’s behavior. These include valuable techniques such as charting, having a reward program, ignoring behaviors, natural consequences, logical consequences, and time-out. Using these strategies will lead to behaviors that are more positive and cut down on problem behaviors. You can read about these techniques in many books. See “Resources” at the end of this publication.
- Talk with your doctor about whether medication will help your child.
- Pay attention to your child’s mental health (and your own!). Be open to counseling. It can help you deal with the challenges of raising a child with ADHD. It can help your child deal with frustration, feel better about himself or herself, and learn more about social skills.
- Talk to other parents whose children have AD/HD. Parents can share practical advice and emotional support.
- Meet with the school and develop an educational plan to address your child’s needs. Both you and your child’s teachers should get a written copy of this plan.
- Keep in touch with your child’s teacher. Tell the teacher how your child is doing at home. Ask how your child is doing in school. Offer support.
Tips for Teachers
- Learn more about ADHD. The resources and organizations listed under “Additional Information” (at the end of this fact sheet) can help you identify specific techniques and strategies to support the student educationally. We have listed some strategies below.
- Figure out what specific things are hard for the student. For example, one student with ADHD may have trouble starting a task, while another may have trouble ending one task and starting the next. Each student needs different help.
- Post rules, schedules, and assignments. Clear rules and routines will help a student with ADHD. Have set times for specific tasks. Call attention to changes in the schedule.
- Show the student how to use an assignment book and a daily schedule. Also, teach study skills and learning strategies, and reinforce these regularly.
- Help the student channel his or her physical activity (e.g., let the student do some work standing up or at the board). Provide regularly scheduled breaks.
- Make sure directions are given step by step, and that the student is following the directions. Give directions both verbally and in writing. Many students with ADHD also benefit from doing the steps as separate tasks.
- Let the student do work on a computer.
- Work together with the student’s parents to create and implement an educational plan tailored to meet the student’s needs. Regularly share information about how the student is doing at home and at school.
- Have high expectations for the student, but be willing to try new ways of doing things. Be patient. Maximize the student’s chances for success.
National Resource Center on ADHD – a program of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Their website has links to information for people with ADHD and their families. The National Resource Center operates a call center with trained staff to answer questions about ADHD. Phone: 1-866-200-8098
Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) – is the world’s leading adult ADHD organization. We are an international non-profit 501C organization founded over twenty-five years ago to help adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) lead better lives. Since its inception, ADDA has become the source of information and resources exclusively for and about adult ADHD. ADDA brings together scientific perspectives and the human experience to generate hope, awareness, empowerment, and connections worldwide in the field of ADHD. Phone: 1-800-939-1019
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
From the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), this extensive resource page defines ADHD; describes its signs, symptoms, and risk factors; discusses treatment and therapies, and connects you with multimedia and federal resources.
HealthyChildren.org on ADHD.
Scads of materials on ADHD in English and Spanish from this service of the American Academy of Pediatrics, including the article Understanding ADHD: Information for Parents.
Information from the CDC.
If your child is having trouble at school, where do you start?
The resources listed on this page from CHADD will provide parents with a good background in the services and/or accommodations that may be available to their child. Every public school should also provide parents with information about local procedures and policies governing ADHD and support available through the school.
Teachers Guide to ADHD in the Classroom.
This guide focuses on what educators need to know about teaching kids with ADHD: how it affects children in the classroom — girls as well as boys — and how teachers can help kids with the disorder succeed in school.
Teaching Children with ADHD: Instructional Strategies and Practices.
From the U.S. Department of Education.