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Understanding ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common chronic disorders in children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes some combination of problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Children with ADHD may also struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and poor performance in school.


Most children are, at times, inattentive, distractible, impulsive or highly active. A child may be diagnosed with ADHD when such behaviors happen more frequently and are more severe than for children of the same age or developmental level. An ADHD diagnosis might also result if the behaviors persist over time and negatively impacts a child’s family, social and school life. Although aggression is not specifically a symptom of ADHD, children who behave aggressively are often diagnosed with ADHD.

There are different rates of ADHD among children, ranging from one percent to 13 percent, and ADHD is three to four times more common in boys than girls.

Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD used to be called attention-deficit disorder (ADD). However, the term ADHD is now preferred because it describes both primary aspects of the condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive disorder.

The symptoms of ADHD fall into two main groups: inattentive behaviors, and hyper¬active and impulsive behaviors. ADHD symptoms become more apparent during activities that require focused mental effort. In order to be diagnosed, children must show symptoms before age 7, displaying six or more inattentive and/or hyperactive and impulsive behaviors at home or at school.

Inattentive Behaviours

  • Often doesn’t pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
  • Often has trouble staying focused on work or activities
  • Often doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Frequently has difficulty following through on instructions and does not finish tasks
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks
  • Usually avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort such as schoolwork or homework
  • Often loses needed items
  • Often easily distracted
  • Often forgetful

Hyperactive Behaviours

  • Often fidgets and squirms
  • Often leaves seat when required to sit still
  • Frequently runs or climbs excessively when inappropriate (or, for adolescents, constantly feels restless)
  • Often talks excessively
  • Usually has difficulty playing quietly
  • Is constantly in motion

Impulsive Behaviours

  • Usually has difficulty waiting for a turn
  • Regularly blurts out answers before questions have been completely asked
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or games

Managing ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD can be challenging for both parents, and children. Treatment can be a great help with symptoms and usually involves medications and behavioral interventions. A child who is diagnosed with ADHD and treated appropriately can have a productive and successful life.

A number of treatments are effective in helping children with ADHD. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help build self-esteem, reduce negative thoughts and improve their problem-solving skills. It can also help them learn self-control and improve their social skills.

Parents and teachers can also play a part in treatment too. Parents can learn how to better manage their children’s behavior by taking parent management skills training, and teachers can design programs to encourage success rather than failure—and address any coexisting learning disabilities ADHD children might have, such as difficulty with reading.

Parenting a child with ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging for the whole family. Parents may experience hurt from the child’s behavior, marital stress, and financial burden from dealing with ADHD. Siblings may be affected by a demanding or aggressive brother or sister, and may get less attention because of the intense demand on their parent’s time from ADHD child.

ADHD seems to be higher among adopted children than the general population, but it is related to both genetic and environmental factors. Adoptive parents are more likely to have their adopted child evaluated, diagnosed and ultimately treated for ADHD than biological parents.

One of the biggest challenges for adoptive parents is identifying the cause of their adopted child’s behaviors. Sometimes, they mistakenly attribute their adopted child’s misbehavior, and either overreacts by excessive punishing, or may not hold them accountable in trying to be sensitive to their child’s early life. If the misbehavior is not properly addressed, children tend to get worse rather than better without treatment, and both the family and the child will suffer needlessly.

Adoptive parents should also realize that ADHD and adoption issues can be problematic at different times in a child’s development and may require professional intervention at any time.

There are no simple answers for families struggling with raising a child that has ADHD, but many resources are available to help. Parents can seek advice from a social worker, or other mental health care professional, and from a support group if they are open to that option. Ask your child’s doctor about possible local support groups.

There are also excellent books and guides available for parents and teachers, as well as Internet sites exclusively dedicated to ADHD.

Links or Useful Resources for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) –

Canadian Mental Health Association –

Centre for ADD/ADHD Advocacy, Canada -

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) –

Ministry of Children and Youth –

McMaster University’s Canchild Centre for Childhood Disability Research -

Offord Centre for Child Studies

Content references:

Children and Youth Mental Health Resource Guide Prepared by Parents for Children’s Mental Health© -

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health -

Mayo Clinic -

Wiki -