What to watch for, what to ignore
Everyone knows a child these days who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. How do you know when energy and excitability cross the line to a diagnosis? Here are three things to watch for in your young child.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children, affecting approximately 8 percent of children and young people. Symptoms of ADHD are categorized into three areas: hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.
The method most commonly used for diagnosing ADHD has been the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). "The problem with this approach is that it often relies on secondary observations of parents or teachers, where even if the descriptions are accurate, any given child may be behaving similarly but for different reasons," says Damien Fair, Ph.D., who co-authored a study at Oregon Health and Science University.
Did you know: Younger children can be misdiagnosed and labeled.
A study in British Columbia focused on age differences between children in the same class -- sometimes almost a whole year, due to age cut-off for kindergarten entry. "Our study suggests younger, less mature children are inappropriately being labeled and treated. It is important not to expose children to potential harms from unnecessary diagnosis and use of medications," says Richard Morrow, lead author of the study. If your child is one of the younger ones in his class and his teacher suspects ADHD, it's possible his relative immaturity when compared to classmates is the issue. Your observations of his behavior at home and in other social settings will help you and your doctor differentiate between the two.
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Inattention or gifted?
Zoning out in class or not paying attention are symptoms of ADHD, but what if your child is just bored? If regular class work isn't challenging enough for your child, there may be times when she is inattentive. If she completes homework easily, is a strong reader for her age and school seems too easy for her, she may be gifted. Talk to her teacher to see if she can be given more challenging work, or possibly some individual projects that spark her interest and attention.
Read about the signs your child is gifted >>
"Focus on the whole child."
One of the symptoms of ADHD is avoiding tasks that require an ongoing amount of thinking to complete. While this may indicate inattention, it may also be the work is difficult for the child. If his teacher notices he's having a hard time focusing on mental tasks, make sure he is evaluated for learning difficulties like dyslexia and also have his eyes checked.
Focus on the whole child -- not just the individual behaviors -- in order to help your child succeed.
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