ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
(ADHD) is a treatable neurobiological condition, resulting in difficulties with
impulsiveness, attention span and often, but not always, hyperactivity. It is
estimated to affect between 3 and 5% of children.
While many children have lots of energy
and can find it hard to concentrate, a child with ADHD will display this
behaviour constantly and the problem is much more extreme. As a result they may
find it difficult to fit in at school. The problem may continue into adulthood
if a child with ADHD does not get the help they need.
Is ADHD a learning disability?
No. ADHD is not a learning disability.
However, children with the condition may be more likely to have specific
learning disabilities as well – such as dyslexia.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The following behaviours are
characteristic of ADHD and usually occur before the age of seven:
- Difficulty remaining seated when asked to
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty awaiting turn in games or group
- Often blurts out answers to questions
- Difficulty following instructions
- Difficulty sustaining attention
- Often shifts from one incomplete activity
- Difficulty playing quietly
- Often talks excessively
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others
- Often does not seem to listen
- Often loses things
- Often engages in physically dangerous
activities without considering the consequences.
Onset of ADHD may be from as young as 18
months; however the condition is often not noticeable until around age 5, when
the child starts primary school.
What causes ADHD?
While the cause of ADHD is not certain, research
has shown that certain areas of the brain work more slowly in children with
ADHD. Genetic factors are thought to be involved as ADHD tends to run in
families. Head trauma or complications at birth resulting in injury to the
brain have also been implicated in the development of ADHD; however these are
only thought to be factors in a few cases. Cigarette smoke and alcohol abuse
during pregnancy may also be linked to development of ADHD in the child. Food
allergies, excess sugar, poor home life and watching too much TV are not
thought to be factors in the development of ADHD.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
A diagnosis of ADHD may be considered if
your child exhibits a number of the symptoms listed above before the age of
seven and for more than six months. Children do not have to be hyperactive to
have ADHD – many children with ADHD are not hyperactive but still find it
difficult to focus. If the child displays significant problems with concentrating
or paying attention, but is not hyperactive, it may be referred to as Attention
Deficit Disorder (ADD) rather than ADHD.
Early diagnosis and treatment has a major
psychological, social and educational impact - it can help to spare your child
the distress of inappropriate social skills and deflated confidence.
If your first port of call is a GP, your
child may be referred on to a child psychiatrist who can then diagnose the
condition. However often, a primary school teacher will be the first to raise
concerns with parents. With the parents' consent, the National Educational
Psychological Service (NEPS) will be contacted. As part of this service, a
psychologist will be sent to the school to assess the child and determine what
There are waiting lists for this service
however and it is not available to secondary schools.
How is ADHD treated?
There is no single, simple treatment.
Instead, treatment comprises a combination of medication (mainly
psychostimulants and antidepressants), parent training, child and parent
counselling and a special education environment. Some alternative and
controversial treatments have been suggested - for example, dietary intervention,
vitamin supplementation and optometric vision training - but there is no
scientific evidence to support these theories.
Some parents worry that medication may
sedate their children or make them feel 'dopey'. However when used correctly,
this should not happen. In fact, it will often make children more focused and
alert. Medication may not help in a small number of cases.
If your child does experience negative
side effects, this may be because the medication itself does not suit them, the
dosage is wrong or the interval between doses is wrong.
Drug-free interventions that have been
shown to be effective include educational interventions, behaviour
modification, parent training and anger management.
What is the long-term outlook for children
A lot can be done for people affected by
ADHD, however this can depend on how early they are diagnosed. If a young
person slips through the net and fails to be diagnosed, they are at risk of
leaving school early and suffering problems such as low self-esteem and
Adults with ADHD may have good attention
spans but remain restless/fidgety and have to keep busy. Significant progress
has been made in treatment, although much remains uncertain or ill-defined.
What can I do?
- Accept that your child may always be
intrinsically active and energetic. You may never eliminate your child's
hyperactivity but you can bring it under reasonable control.
- Provide an outlet, such as sport, for your
child's excess energy. In bad weather try to provide a room where he/she can
play with minimal restrictions and supervision. Encourage your child to play
with one toy at a time. Try not to encourage hyperactive behaviour, for
example, chasing games or other noisy play.
- Organise your
home. Household routines help hyperactive children to accept order. Maintain
regular times for wake-up, meals, snacks, naps and bed.
- Try not to let your child become
exhausted, as this will affect their self-control and the hyperactivity may
- Initially you may want to avoid places
where hyperactivity would be inappropriate and embarrassing (such as churches
or restaurants). Your child can gradually be introduced to these situations
when they develop their self-control.
- Be firm. Children with ADHD are difficult
to manage. Enforce a few clear, consistent, important rules and add other rules
at your child's pace. Aggressive behaviour should not be accepted, but avoid
unattainable rules, for example, don't expect your child to keep his/her hands
and feet still.
- Don't use physical punishment, as this
will suggest to your child that physically aggressive behaviour is acceptable.
Instead try to use a neutral tone of voice and isolate them in a chair or
time-out room if a show of disapproval doesn't work. The time-out should last
about one minute per year of your child's age.
- Consistently encourage and praise
attentive behaviour at home. Try to set aside several brief periods each day to
teach your child listening skills by reading to them. Teach your child to play
with building blocks and progress to puzzles and card or dice games. Matching
pictures is an excellent way to build your child's memory and concentration
span. When your child becomes restless, stop and return for another session
- Be your child's advocate. Ensure that
relatives, teachers and peers understand the disorder and don't label your
child as 'bad'. Promote the attitude that your child is a good child with
excess energy. If your child always feels loved and accepted within the family,
their self-esteem will survive.
- Medication can be helpful. Some stimulant
drugs can improve a child's ability to concentrate, but you must discuss the
use of drugs with your doctor. Medication without special education and home
management programmes will have no long-term benefit.
- Make some time for yourself. Periodic
breaks and evenings out can provide much-needed breaks and help you to tolerate
Are there any ADHD support groups in Ireland?
The Hyperactivity and Attention Deficit
Disorder (HADD) family support group can be contacted at (01) 874 83 49 or firstname.lastname@example.org