What is childhood ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner
Childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition marked by impulsive, inattentive, and hyperactive behaviors. About 5% to 8% of children have ADHD, and many of these children will have ADHD symptoms as adults. Most people are born with the condition, although injuries can cause ADHD, too. There are many treatments for ADHD. The most effective treatment seems to be the combination of medication and behavioral therapy treatment.
Deborah Mulligan
Deborah Mulligan on behalf of MDLIVE
The majority of childhood habits are so common that they should be considered normal.  Sometimes parents find it hard to know whether a condition needs attention or not.  Children usually grow out of their behavioral problems or their peculiar habits, but some disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) require expert help.  

ADHD is a common behavioral disorder that affects an estimated 8% to 10% of school-age children. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, though it's not yet understood why.  Children with ADHD act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what's expected of them but have trouble following through because they can't sit still, pay attention, or attend to details.

All children act this way at times, particularly when they're anxious or excited, but the difference with ADHD is that symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. They impair a child's ability to function socially, academically, and at home.

It is not known why children have ADHD, but some possible causes may be genetic factors and environmental influences.  If you think your child may have ADHD, consult your pediatrician to determine if an evaluation is needed.  ADHD is the most researched of all childhood behavioral disorders.  The diagnosis of ADHD is based on strict criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association.  Children must meet the criteria before being appropriately diagnosed with ADHD.  The American Academy of pediatrics recommends that all children referred for an ADHD evaluation have a thorough assessment, with observations of behavior by parents, teachers, and other caregivers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.