ADHD: Essential Information For Caregivers
What Is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is typically characterised by hyperactivity, excessive inattention, trouble focusing, paying attention or completing tasks or activities, as well as impulsive and often disruptive behaviour. It is a brain development disorder that affects between 2 to 9.5 percent of school-age children worldwide and one in 20 children in Australia.
- Types of ADHD
- ADD vs ADHD: What’s the difference?
- Symptoms you should look out for as a parent or caregiver
- How ADHD is diagnosed
- What to do if you think your child has ADHD
- Post-diagnosis: the next steps
- Psychologist for children & teenagers
What Are The Types Of ADHD?
There are three kinds of ADHD as identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
- Predominantly hyperactive impulsive (hyperactive but not inattentive)
- Predominantly inattentive (inattentive but not hyperactive)
- Combined presentation, a mixture of both subtypes and the most severe diagnosis.
Children with ADHD often tend to be disruptive, restless, prone to tantrums, have difficulty completing tasks, and will often become a distraction in the classroom. Without diagnosis and adequate treatment, a child’s behavioural problems can arise which can contribute to adolescent delinquency, problems with peers and academic underachievement.
ADD vs ADHD: What’s The Difference?
The acronyms ADD and ADHD are frequently used interchangeably, creating much confusion worldwide. ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, and ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Both are brain development disorders characterised by excessive inattention, hyperactivity, difficulties paying attention and completing tasks, and impulsive behaviour.
What is ADD?
ADD specifically refers to the inattentive type of ADHD, which is one of three types of ADHD now recognised by international medical practitioners.
It differs from ADHD, which is now the official term, that recognises hyperactivity as well as inattentiveness.
ADD stands for Attention-Deficit Disorder, a neurological condition in which individuals struggle with focus, concentration, and attentiveness.
Are they the same?
The difference between ADD vs ADHD is that ADD is the old term, and ADHD is the new term.
The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, and used in many countries internationally as a foundational guide for mental disorders and diagnoses.
ADD, the acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder, was the official term for the disorder under the DSM publications until further studies were conducted in the 1980s.
This research concluded individuals could also have the condition while displaying hyperactive tendencies. Hence, the disorder was aptly renamed to ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
ADHD officially became the new term and acronym for the disorder under the 1987 DSM-III, with updated diagnoses in the 1994 DSM-IV.
What Causes ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been researched for well over a century and has been documented in every country and every culture in the world. This research has identified several possible genetic factors that may contribute to the development of a child’s behaviour and ADHD.
These factors include:
- Abnormalities in the genes that influence the following neurotransmitters:
- Serotonin, which helps regulate mood.
- Dopamine, which controls movement and emotional responses.
- Norepinephrine, which helps mobilise the brain for action and attentiveness.
- Decreased activation in the areas of the brain which monitor emotion, impulse control, problem solving and social interaction.
- Smaller brain volume in the areas of the brain responsible for regulating attention, resisting distractions and developing awareness or self and time.
Researchers have also identified significant environmental factors which can increase the risk of developing ADHD such as premature birth, prenatal exposure to nicotine or alcohol and toxins in the body.
Parents and caregivers should also note that despite rhetoric and anecdotes, there is no scientific evidence linking ADHD with immunisations, vaccines, allergies, food additives or eating too much sugar.
Symptoms Of ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be evident as early as infancy, however most ADHD symptoms generally arise between ages three and five.
- Excessive restlessness
- Constant walking, running and climbing
- Mood swings
- Emotional outbursts.
It is common for a child’s teacher to bring it to parents’ attention, as primary school is typically when the child’s disruptive behaviour becomes most detectable.
While it is not your responsibility to diagnose yourself or your child with ADHD, it is important to know what you’re looking for.
The DSM-5 identifies two criterium depending on the ADHD subtype being assessed:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
- Often has trouble organising tasks and activities.
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. School materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity Criteria:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in a seat.
- Often leaves a seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Often has trouble waiting their turn.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
For ADHD to be seriously considered, multiple symptoms must have been present before the age of 12, symptoms must be sustained for at least 6 months, and several of the symptoms must be present in multiple settings i.e., at home and at school. The disorder must also interfere with the quality of the person’s social and family life as well as schoolwork, and be inappropriate for the person’s level of development.
Diagnosis Of ADHD
For most parents, a diagnosis is usually made by a specialist paediatrician or child psychologist after a referral from a doctor.
It is important to note that there is no definitive test for ADHD. However, a psychologist or trained specialist can perform a detailed assessment using a range of tools to arrive at a diagnosis.
- At New Vision Psychology, we charge $240 per hour of service for the assessment of ADHD.
- Standard assessment and diagnosis of ADHD is 6 hours – $1440.
- If additional assessments are required (depending on each individual’s situation, which will be discussed with the psychologist in the initial session) each additional hour of testing and reporting will be charged at $240 per hour.
What Should I Do If I Think My Child Has ADHD?
If you think you or your child are displaying ADHD symptoms, the first step is to consult your personal physician.
There are various medical conditions that can influence attention and behaviour such as traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, food allergies, anxiety and depression. If all of these medical explanations can be ruled out, your doctor will refer your child to a mental health professional to be assessed.
Diagnosing children with ADHD is not as simple as taking a test. Rather, ADHD is diagnosed by psychologists or paediatricians evaluating the patient’s history and performance in social situations, at home and at school and assessing them based on the criteria listed above.
Is ADHD A Bad Thing?
Parents and caregivers should not be alarmed by their child’s ADHD diagnosis— ADHD is not a bad thing. Many successful people have been diagnosed with ADHD including Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, business tycoon Richard Branson, founder of Microsoft Bill Gates and President John F. Kennedy.
People with ADHD can be wonderfully creative, inventive and imaginative, and with treatment, support and positive environments, they are capable of flourishing and contributing significantly to society and others.
Common Misconceptions About ADHD
There are several misnomers about ADHD:
- A popular one is that Autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are comparable. While there is an unexplained genetic relation between the two, and while symptoms can overlap, ADHD is not on the Autism spectrum.
- It is also commonly believed that ADHD is a learning disorder and that people with ADHD cannot focus or concentrate at all.
- ADHD is not classified as a learning disability, although it can make traditional classroom learning more difficult. Children with ADHD can maintain attention and even “hyper-focus”, when sufficiently motivated or interested, but may struggle to shift attention to tasks they find less interesting like household chores or schoolwork.
My Child Has Been Diagnosed With ADHD: Now What?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is perfectly treatable and those who are ADHD diagnosed with it can go on to live productive, fulfilling and successful lives with great mental health if given access to the appropriate learning and behavioural plans, positive parenting, counselling, and medications.
There is no miracle cure for ADHD, but a diagnosis is nothing to fear.
There is a combination of ways for managing ADHD, but the most popular and effective strategy for children with ADHD is a mix of positive parenting, learning and classroom strategies, sticking to a consistent routine, and actively building social skills.
Stick To Schedules, Plan For Breaks And Avoid Clutter
As you can imagine, people with ADHD— particularly children with ADHD— can be easily bored or distracted. To combat this, it is advised to implement structure and routine to their lives. By having consistent set times to do work in warm, welcoming, decluttered workspaces; productivity and enthusiasm can be increased. Ensuring ample breaks will also prevent boredom and fatigue.
Build Self-esteem, Communication Skills and Motivation
When dealing with children with ADHD, building self-esteem and acknowledging positive behaviour is integral in shaping behaviour as well as physical and mental health. By setting achievable goals, congratulating them, highlighting their best work and reviewing their accomplishments, parents and caregivers can create a sense of confidence, self-esteem and renewed interest in education and household duties.
This approach can also be applied to socialising. A child with ADHD should not be overstimulated, so when socialising, stick to small groups of two or three. Again, reward appropriate behaviour like playing in a friendly fashion or sharing when it is observed and actively teach against negative behaviour and responses by having them think about the consequences.
Medication can be a scary word, especially for parents, but deciding to use ADHD medication is not the end of the world. In mild to severe cases of ADHD in a child, medication is necessary and can be used in conjunction with strategies, counselling and the positive lifestyle choices mentioned above.
There are two types of medication: stimulants like methylphenidate and dexamphetamine and non-stimulants like atomoxetine and guanfacine. Stimulants are most popular and tend to last between three to 12 hours. Non-stimulants are generally used in the rare case that a patient has an adverse reaction to stimulants.
Like any medication, there can be side effects, though it is not common in ADHD medication. Stimulant medication has been studied at length and is considered safe; however, it is important for parents and caregivers of a child with ADHD to monitor the effects of any medication closely for signs of loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, stomach aches, headaches, irritability or emotionality. As a general rule, any person taking stimulant medication should be assessed by a doctor at least every six months, and if any changes occur a doctor should be sought out immediately.
Possibly most important, people with ADHD need a network of support from their friends, family and loved ones or a support group. With strategies in place and clear, transparent and honest communication between their connections, people with ADHD can be organised, understood and ultimately thrive.
For more information, visit www.adhdaustralia.org.au or contact our team.
About New Vision Psychology
New Vision Psychology is a clinical private practice based in Sydney’s CBD, with clinics in Martin Place, Burwood, Castle Hill, Chatswood and Hurstville. We have psychologists who have extensive experience with counselling for children, teens and adolescents.
Established in 2009, Directors Danni Zhang and Johan Crouch were driven by their desire to make a difference in private practice. As seasoned practitioners in the industry, they noticed a few problems – some psychology practices were cold and impersonal, others were selective with who they chose to take on, and many had long and indefinite wait times. People trying to seek help often felt out of place, uncomfortable and weren’t treated equally. They found this unacceptable for an industry based on trust and human connection. This is when they set out to create a place that was inclusive, respectful and welcoming for everyone.