Could my child have ADHD?

ADHD the most common psychiatric disorder diagnosed in children. Find out how a mother's concern about her son leads her to look into symptoms and treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, with Dr. Margaret Weiss.

By Heather Camlot

Could my child have ADHD?
©iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport Imagery
During a recent girls' night out, I was telling my friends about my seven-year-old son, who has been having problems at school. He won't write any of his work down (but he'll give the correct answers orally), he has trouble following instructions and he is easily distracted by classmates. At soccer practice, he can never remember the name of the player he's supposed to research, and when he actually does his homework, he forgets to hand it in. One of my girlfriends hesitantly suggested that my son sounded a lot like her as a child – and she's since been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder and is the most common psychiatric disorder diagnosed in children, affecting five to 12 per cent of school-age children, according to the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA). The numbers can be further broken down by gender, with some eight to 10 per cent of boys and three to four per cent of girls under the age of 18 diagnosed as having ADHD.

ADHD has three key components or symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. And how these symptoms cause impairment determines the subtype of ADHD one is diagnosed with. These subtypes are the combined subtype (which involves all three symptoms and is the most common type of ADHD), the hyperactive-impulsive subtype and the inattentive subtype.

ADHD is a highly genetic condition, determining some 80 per cent of cases, explains Dr. Margaret Weiss, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and a world-renowned expert in the field. The other 20 per cent of ADHD cases may be linked to environmental factors, such as traumatic brain injury, lead poisoning, prenatal events and alcohol or cigarette exposure in utero.

What are the signs of ADHD?
"When ADHD is present, it causes a lot of impairment. It's not something you have to go looking for," explains Weiss. Although children may be symptomatic as early as age 4, the condition is more apparent when children transition into Grade 1, where they must sit and work for extended periods of time. Fuller understanding tends to occur around Grade 3, when the children themselves may realize something is wrong, perhaps due to rejection by classmates, trouble with schoolwork or conflict with parents.

Parents may notice that their child:
• has difficulty getting ready in the morning without supervision
• may fight during any attention-demanding tasks, such as homework
• may be preoccupied with attention-relieving tasks, such as Lego or Internet games

About half of the children who have ADHD may also be oppositional, displaying temper tantrums or defiance.

At school, teachers may find that a child:
• is not focusing
• does not complete his work
• marches to the beat of his own drummer
• has difficulty meeting his academic potential because he focuses on the wrong task

ADHD also comes with associated features, though not all children have them. These features may include:
• bedwetting
• ear infections
• problems with coordination
• learning disabilities
• sleep apnea

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