Many children have an abundance of energy. It's also typical for them to get distracted or bored easily. And lots of kids are impulsive. But for some kids, these are more than just typical childhood traits—they're actually symptoms of a brain disorder known as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
What's the difference? In kids with ADHD, the impulsiveness, hyperactivity and distractibility are more obvious than in other children. And these kids start having trouble as a result. For example, they may be annoying playmates, have trouble making friends or are constantly getting in trouble at school, or their grades may start to slip.
Scientists think that these problems are caused by differences in the way the brains of kids with ADHD mature, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Brain scans have found that even though the brain matures in a normal pattern in kids with ADHD, the process is much slower than in other kids—three years slower for most of them. And the process is slowest in parts of the brain that control a person's ability to pay attention, plan ahead and think.
How do kids get ADHD? It's likely that kids inherit the disorder from their parents or other family members through their genes. But there may also be environmental triggers, such as being around people who smoke on a regular basis or being exposed to lead.
And even though ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, doctors don't think the disorder just goes away when they get older. Adults have it, too.
Not all people with ADHD have the same type of symptoms or issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of ADHD:
Inattentive. This type of ADHD makes it hard for people to finish things they're working on or to follow along if someone is telling them how to do something. They may also have trouble following daily routines or paying attention to details.
Hyperactive-impulsive. These people are the fidgeters who talk nonstop. They may not be able to sit still or are constantly on the move.
- Combined presentation. These people have a mix of both types of ADHD.
Only a doctor can tell for sure if you or your child has ADHD. Sometimes it may seem like your child has ADHD, when it's actually something else causing the problem. Your doctor will probably want to rule out other medical conditions before he or she starts to consider ADHD, according to the NIH.
To determine if it is ADHD, your doctor will likely look at school records and ask parents, teachers and others who interact with your child questions to learn more about his or her behavior. Then your doctor will look at other information, such as test results, to make a final diagnosis.
The good news is that if you or your child does have ADHD, there are a lot of successful treatments and ADHD medications out there and chances are, you can find something that works.
ADHD medications have been shown to help those diagnosed with ADHD, particularly stimulant drugs, according to the NIH. While these ADHD drugs may make some people feel wired or hyper, they have the opposite effect on people with ADHD. They are calming and help them focus. But these drugs do have side effects, so you and your doctor should discuss the pros and cons before you decide to start taking them or give them to your child.
Your doctor may also want you or your child to try psychotherapy in addition to—or even instead of—medicine to control the ADHD. A specialist can help you or your child develop strategies to improve organization and control behavior. He or she may also work with parents to help them come up with strategies to help their child succeed.While there is a lot your doctor can do about ADHD today, there may be even more options available in years to come, according to the NIH. New research is teaching scientists even more about what causes this disorder, which may lead to strategies that can prevent and medicine that can more effectively treat ADHD in the future. For more information about ADHD and to learn more about common ADHD medications and view available drug discounts, visit our ADHD condition page.