7 Facts About ADHD All Parents Should Know

ADHD can impact a child's school performance. Recognize the signs to help your child thrive.

Definition of ADHD highlighted in pink in a book.
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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition that begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood. ADHD affects both boys and girls and while there is no single known cause of the disorder, many experts believe that genetics play a significant role.

Potential risk factors of ADHD include smoking or drinking during pregnancy, exposure to lead or other toxins and birth complications. Mustafa Pirzada, MD, a psychiatrist with the JFK Medical Center North Campus in West Palm Beach, Florida explains the basic facts about ADHD and how parents can best help their child with ADHD manage the symptoms and thrive socially and academically throughout the school year.

Teenage young man with ADHD in class with head in hand trying to concentrate and take notes in a notebook
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There Are Three Types

There are three basic types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive and a combination of the two. Children who are diagnosed as inattentive primarily struggle with the ability to concentrate, are easily distracted and have trouble following instructions.

Those diagnosed as hyperactive-impulsive are predominantly fidgety, find it difficult to sit still, talk excessively and frequently interrupt others, hindering their social skills. For a child with a combination of the two, symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity are equally present.      

Girl with overlooked ADHD sits in classroom looking despondent
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It's Not Just For Boys

It’s not unusual for young children to be somewhat distracted and impulsive, but kids with ADHD experience behaviors that are more severe, occur more frequently and interfere with their social skills and academic performance.

Symptoms in boys tend to be more obvious; as a result, ADHD is often thought of as a boys’ problem. “I think [girls] get diagnosed a little less because they are rather inattentive and quiet in their own world,” Pirzada says. He notes that a girl’s poor grades may be what prompt a parent to look into the cause—and, at times, ADHD is the answer.

boy sits on his dad's lap on an exam table talking to a doctor during an ADHD evaluation
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An Accurate Diagnosis Is Possible

ADHD is diagnosed using the DSM-5 criteria, which is divided into inattentive and hyperactivity. In order for children up to age 16 to be diagnosed with ADHD, he or she must meet criteria that include symptoms:

  • starting by age 12
  • present for at least six months
  • inappropriate for their age level
  • interferes with school or work functioning
  • present in at least two different settings

In terms of settings, “usually it’s at home and in school,” Pirzada says. If you suspect that your child has ADHD, you may want to start with your child’s doctor, but it’s also advisable to have her evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. It can be helpful to work with a healthcare professional who specializes in, or regularly treats, patients with the condition.

Preteen girl with ADHD in classroom looking frustrated
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School Can be Challenging

Children with ADHD tend to have significant problems in school. Their backpacks are a mess, they lose books, forget homework and can’t keep track of tests. Kids who are inattentive can find it almost impossible to focus on lessons in the classroom. They may get in trouble frequently for fidgeting or being disruptive in class.

Once your child is diagnosed, create a team at your child’s school. Partner with your child’s teacher and bring in others, like the school psychologist, to create a plan to help your child succeed academically, taking into account their strengths and weaknesses.

 Boy with ADHD and a female behavioral therapist sit at an activity table looking at each other smiling, holding up letter blocks
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There Are Treatments That Work

While there is no cure, ADHD can be treated with medication, therapy or a combination of the two. Pirzada suggests behavioral modification as a first line of treatment. Behavior therapy teaches a child skills such as organizing schoolwork and learning to control impulsive behavior. He says if this type of therapy isn’t enough, parents should consult with a psychiatrist to consider medication, like a stimulant or non-stimulant drug.

While some drugs have adverse effects, like decreased appetite and trouble sleeping, it’s important to weigh the side effects against the possible improvements in schoolwork and social relationships for a struggling child.

Two parents sit in a classroom talking to their child's teacher about an Individualized Education Plan IEP
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Families Have Rights

According to CHADD, The National Resource on ADHD, students diagnosed with ADHD may be entitled to special classroom accommodations. It’s important to learn about your child’s educational rights and act as an advocate to ensure your child gets any services he’s entitled. These services may include an Individualized Education Plan or Section 504 Plan.

As another strategy for getting your child academic help, “I think parents should contact their school board and talk to the liaison for the county and/or the state,” says Pirzada.

Mother and daughter with ADHD sit facing each other on the couch hugging, heads buried in each other
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Parental Support Helps

Parenting a child with ADHD can have its challenges. “Parents feel like ‘what did I do wrong?’” says Pirzada. Parent skills training, where parents learn techniques to encourage positive behaviors and redirect inappropriate ones, can make home life easier. An ADHD support group can be another source of information and emotional support for harried parents. Check CHADD for meetings in your area.

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