What ADHD Is — And Isn't


All children have times when their concentration, activity and behavior become difficult for a parent or caregiver to manage.

What is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — formerly known as Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) commonly comes up in conversation about any child who struggles with concentration or behavior.

With so much information around about ADHD, what causes it and how to diagnosis and treat it, it can be challenging for parents to know what is true and what is not.

What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD?

Look for a continued pattern of inattention, which includes:

  • Being easily distracted and unable to pay close attention to details;
  • Having trouble holding attention to complete tasks/activities for school; and
  • Often being forgetful and losing things necessary for the day such as school materials, books, wallets, keys, glasses and mobile phones.

Parents should also pay close attention for a continued pattern of hyperactivity, including:

  • Constantly fidgeting, squirming, or leaving their seat;
  • Running or climbing in situations where it is inappropriate:
  • Inability to play in activities quietly; or
  • Talking excessively and having trouble waiting his/her turn to speak.

What separates children with ADHD from the occasional concentration or attention issue is that children with ADHD have problems that are so frequent and/or so severe that they get in the way of their ability to function on a day to day basis.

Children with ADHD have these issues in more than one place and struggle at home, in school, and/or at work. Their problems consistently interfere with the quality of work they produce. They also have trouble getting along with others, which can be lead to challenging relationships friends and relatives alike.

When should I seek help?

Parents or caregivers of a child 4 to 18 years old with school or behavioral problems should talk to their primary care provider, pediatric, or family practice clinician.

ADHD is primarily diagnosed by discussion of symptoms with the child and parent(s), including questions such as:

  • How does the child do in school and with their homework assignments?
  • Has the teacher said anything to the parents about the child’s behavior?
  • How are relationships with the child’s peers?

Typically, your medical home will provide questionnaires for teachers to fill out. They may also call teachers to gain a better understanding of the school environment and identify specific goals to aid in managing the problem.

What happens after diagnosis?

If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it is important to know that this is a chronic health condition that can be managed with your primary care provider.

Children and adolescents with ADHD have special health care needs and your medical home is there to help you make decisions (with the input of your child’s school) to manage your child’s ADHD symptoms and assist you in accessing specialized education evaluation and services to maximize your child’s success.

Matthew Saia, MD, is a pediatrician at the University of Vermont Medical Center and assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM in Burlington, VT. He specializes in adolescent care, patient-centered medical home and school-based health.

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