ADD and ADHD treatment are for people who suffer from inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.
Children who have symptoms of inattention may:
- Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
- Have difficulty focusing on one thing
- Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
- Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
- Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
- Not seem to listen when spoken to
- Daydream, become easily confused and move slowly
- Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
- The struggle to follow instructions.
- Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:
- Fidget and squirm in their seats
- Talk nonstop
- Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
- Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
- Be constantly in motion
- Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:
- Be very impatient
- Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
- Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting for their turns in games
- Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.
ADD and ADHD Can Be Mistaken for Other Problems
Parents and teachers can miss the fact that children with symptoms of inattention have the disorder because they are often quiet and less likely to act out. They may sit quietly, seeming to work, but they are often not paying attention to what they are doing. They may get along well with other children, compared with those with the other subtypes, who tend to have social problems. But children with the inattentive kind of ADHD are not the only ones whose disorders can be missed. For example, adults may think that children with the hyperactive and impulsive subtypes just have emotional or disciplinary problems.
No single test can diagnose a child as having ADHD. Instead, a licensed health professional needs to gather information about the child, and his or her behavior and environment. A family may want to first talk with the child’s pediatrician. Some pediatricians can assess the child themselves, but many will refer the family to a mental health specialist with experience in childhood mental disorders such as ADHD. The pediatrician or mental health specialist will first try to rule out other possibilities for the symptoms. For example, certain situations, events, or health conditions may cause temporary behaviors in a child that seem like ADHD.
Some children with ADD or ADHD also have other illnesses or conditions. For example, they may have one or more of the following:
- A learning disability. A child in preschool with a learning disability may have difficulty understanding certain sounds or words or have problems expressing himself or herself in words. A school-aged child may struggle with reading, spelling, writing, and math.
- Oppositional defiant disorder. Kids with this condition, in which a child is overly stubborn or rebellious, often argue with adults and refuse to obey rules.
- Conduct disorder. This condition includes behaviors in which the child may lie, steal, fight or bully others. He or she may destroy property, break into homes, or carry or use weapons. These children or teens are also at a higher risk of using illegal substances. Kids with conduct disorder are at risk of getting into trouble at school or with the police.
- Anxiety and depression. Treating ADHD may help to decrease anxiety or some forms of depression.
- Bipolar disorder. Some children with ADHD may also have this condition in which extreme mood swings go from mania (an extremely high elevated mood) to depression in short periods of time.
Tourette syndrome. Very few children have this brain disorder, but among those who do, many also have ADHD. Some people with Tourette syndrome have nervous tics and repetitive mannerisms, such as eye blinks, facial twitches, or grimacing. Others clear their throats, snort, or sniff frequently, or bark out words inappropriately. These behaviors can be controlled with medication.
ADHD also may coexist with a sleep disorder, bed-wetting, substance abuse, or other disorders or illnesses.
Recognizing ADD/ADHD symptoms and seeking treatment early will lead to better outcomes for both affected children and their families.
How is ADHD diagnosed in adults?
Like children, adults who suspect they have ADHD should be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. But the professional may need to consider a wider range of symptoms when assessing adults for ADHD because their symptoms tend to be more varied and possibly not as clear-cut as symptoms seen in children.
ADD and ADHD Treatments
Currently available treatments focus on reducing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning. Treatments include medication, various types of psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.
Starting a Solution
Children with ADD or ADHD need guidance and understanding from their parents and teachers to reach their full potential and to succeed in school. Before a child is diagnosed, frustration, blame, and anger may have built up within a family. Parents and children may need special help to overcome bad feelings. Mental health professionals can educate parents about ADD or ADHD treatment and how it impacts a family. They also will help the child and his or her parents develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other.
Sometimes, the whole family may need therapy. Therapists can help family members find better ways to handle disruptive behaviors and to encourage behavior changes. Finally, support groups help parents and families connect with others who have similar problems and concerns. Groups often meet regularly to share frustrations and successes, to exchange information about recommended specialists and strategies, and to talk with experts.
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Teens – Managing ADHD Treatment With Medicine
Just about everyone has trouble concentrating or paying attention in class from time to time. But for teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these things can cause problems at school and in other areas of life. Medicines can help people with ADHD stay more focused and follow instructions better.
How Medicines Help
People with ADHD often act and think a little differently. They may get distracted easily. They may feel bored a lot, lose things, say or do whatever is on their mind without thinking, and interrupt when other people are talking.
Medicines can help people with ADHD concentrate and focus better and be less hyperactive and impulsive. ADHD medications work by increasing the levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help send messages between nerve cells in the brain.
There are two main kinds of ADHD medications: stimulants and non-stimulants.
Stimulants include Concerta, Ritalin LA, Focalin XR, Metadate CD, Daytrana, Adderall, and Vyvanse. They come as a liquid, pill, capsule, and even a patch. Stimulants work very quickly, and people with ADHD may see an improvement right away.
Non-stimulants work a little differently in the brain than stimulants. They may take longer to work, but they work better than stimulants for some people. Non-stimulants include atomoxetine (Strattera), extended release guanfacine (Intuniv), extended release clonidine (Kapvay), and certain antidepressants (such as Wellbutrin).
Doctors work closely with people who have ADHD to figure out which medicine will be most helpful. Because everyone’s different, doctors might try a couple of medicines before finding the one that works best.
Some teens need a combination of medicines. They might need both a stimulant and a non-stimulant at the same time to get the best results.
Are ADHD Treatment Medicines Safe?
Most experts agree that ADHD medicines are safe and work well when they are used under a psychiatrist’s or other doctor’s care. ADHD medications have helped teens with ADHD in all sorts of areas, even helping reduce things like substance abuse, injuries, and automobile accidents. ADHD medicines also can help people have better relationships at home and with friends.
But stimulants can cause some serious health problems if they’re not used properly. ADHD medicines can cause problems when:
- the medicine is taken by someone who doesn’t need it
- the person with ADHD takes more of the medicine than the doctor directed
- the person takes the medicine more often than the doctor directed
What Happens if ADHD Medicines Are Abused?
When stimulant-type ADHD medications are used at doses that are too high (in other words, when they’re abused), a person can have problems like:
- tremors (uncontrolled shaking)
- changes in mood
- delusions (when the mind thinks something is true when it really isn’t)
- Overdosing on ADHD medications also can cause these problems:
- dangerously high blood pressure fast or irregular heartbeat
- severe twitching or uncontrolled movements
dry mouth and eyes
Are ADHD Medicines Addictive?
ADHD medications have the potential to become addictive if they aren’t used exactly as the doctor instructs. Because people who abuse ADHD medicines can get addicted to them, there are laws against sharing ADHD medications with other people. People with ADHD who take their medicines as they’re supposed to are not likely to get addicted to their medicine.
People used to worry that someone using medicines to treat ADHD might be more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. That hasn’t proved to be true. In fact, research has shown that people with ADHD who use their medicines properly may actually be less likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs.
Researchers are constantly working to develop new medicines for ADHD. But taking medicine is just one part of an ADHD treatment plan. Treatment plans usually also include therapy and adjustments in school and at home to help people learn and build skills that will help them throughout life.
ADHD Treatment Tips for Teens
There’s no quick fix for ADHD. But working with doctors and counselors can help you figure out how to reach your full potential — both in school and socially. It’s important to treat ADHD, which might mean taking medicine or working with therapists or counselors — most people with ADHD do both.
And you can try these tips to help with school and relationships:
- Sit in the front of class to limit distractions.
- Turn off email, instant messaging, and your phone when doing homework or other tasks that require focused attention. This will help protect you against being distracted.
- Talk with your teacher about your ADHD and work together to be sure you’re learning in a way that works for you. For example, some schools will allow extra time for students with ADHD to take tests. Some teens may benefit from smaller class sizes and tutoring help.
- Use tools that help you stay organized. For example, keep track of assignments in a homework notebook, including a list of books and readings you’ll need to bring home to do.
- Write down classes and other appointments in a daily planner or on your smartphone so you don’t forget.
- Get plenty of exercises. Studies are starting to show that exercise can help people who have ADHD. If you feel hyper during school, talk to a teacher about taking activity breaks so you can stay focused and concentrate better when in class. Take activity breaks often while studying or doing homework.
- Practice relaxation and meditation techniques to relax and focus.
- Let friends know what’s going on. Sometimes we blurt things out and regret it later on. Or we do silly, impulsive things. If this happens to you, let your friends know that sometimes you say things without thinking them through. Apologize if you have hurt someone’s feelings and try to be extra careful in new situations.
- Take pride in the things you do well. Having ADHD is just a different way of being, and people with ADHD have their own abilities and talents.
Reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD