Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood brain disorders in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 11 percent of children 4 to 17 years of age, 6.4 million kids, have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.

A child with ADHD might have trouble focusing on tasks or subjects because the part of their brain that controls attention and activity is different than a child without ADHD. Common symptoms of ADHD include difficulty staying focused, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity.

A child with ADHD might do some of the following things more frequently than other children:

  • Daydream a lot
  • Frequently forget or lose things
  • Squirm or fidget
  • Talk too much
  • Have trouble taking turns
  • Struggle prioritizing or organizing

There also are several different types of ADHD depending on which symptoms are the strongest in the child:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation
    • It is hard for the child to organize or finish a task, pay attention to details, or follow instructions or conversations.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation
    • The child fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard for the child to sit still for long and the individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity.
  • Combined Presentation
    • Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the child.

Diagnosing ADHD requires multiple steps. There's no way to tell if a child has ADHD from blood tests, X-rays or other medical investigations. Doctors diagnose ADHD based on history, interviews and special evaluations — such as rating scales, computer-based assessments and learning tests. In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy.

The causes and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but current research shows that genetics plays an important role. In addition to genetics, researchers are studying other possible causes and risk factors including:

  • Brain injury
  • Environmental exposures (e.g., lead)
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight

As a parent, you can help your child by structuring situations in more positive ways. For example, restrict the number of playmates to one or two, to prevent overstimulation. If your child has trouble completing tasks, divide large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to help your child accomplish their goals.

Your child may be eligible for school-based support for their difficulties in attention. Children with ADHD may benefit from teachers shifting their methods. In order to make sure that your child is receiving the proper attention at school, be sure to discuss their specific needs with their teacher or school counselor.

If you or your doctor has concerns about ADHD, you can take your child to a specialist such as a child psychiatrist, child psychologist or developmental pediatrician.

The Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s is a center that provides comprehensive care for children — from birth to age 21 — with behavioral and developmental conditions, such as autism, Fragile X, ADHD/ADD, Down Syndrome, learning disabilities, behavioral sleep conditions, craniofacial abnormalities and cleft lip and palate.