Local News

Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Posted March 13, 2002

— Just mention Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, among parents and a heated discussion is sure to follow.

It is impossible to figure out how many children have ADHD. Some studies suggest 4 percent of children have it, while others put the number as high as 12 percent.

Not all children who are diagnosed have ADHD, and some cases are never discovered.

For parents who are concerned about their child having the disorder, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis.

Like most 11-year-old boys, Nick Carawana never stops moving. His parents said he has always been energetic, but when Nick started kindergarten, they noticed he was not like everyone else in his class.

"He would be the one that would be talking while everyone else was trying to listen. Or he'd be the one running around during circle time," said Kathy Carawana, Nick's mother. "There's no doubt in my mind that this is ADHD."

Nick was labeled a problem child. Eventually, doctors diagnosed him with ADHD.

Still, many people feel that too many children are being diagnosed with the disorder.

"Clearly, every child that does poorly in school does not have this condition," said Dr. Ruffin Franklin, a pediatrician.

Most pediatricians use a questionnaire to make a diagnosis, with questions that include:

  • Does your child have difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities?
  • Does he or she have difficulty organizing tasks?
  • To be diagnosed with ADHD, the problems must be present for at least six months and appear before age seven. The problems also have to happen in more than one setting, such as at home and at school.

    Once a child is diagnosed, he or she is taught different learning strategies to help him or her focus.

    That worked for Nick for awhile, but he eventually needed medication.

    "It was a difference of night and day. Immediately, we could see a difference in him," Carawana said.

    Dr. Franklin said that many children outgrow the need for medication before they reach high school. Carawana hopes her son will be one of them.

    Children should never be put on medication without a proper diagnosis.

    While Ritalin is the drug most people associate with ADHD, there are newer drugs that work longer and better for many children.

    Researchers are also working to develop a scan that would help confirm the diagnosis of ADHD.

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