ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 3 to 13% of children in the U.S. Four times as many boys as girls develop it. These children experience inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. They can be easily distracted, have trouble concentrating, interrupt others, and talk excessively. Children with ADHD may be forgetful and lose things. They have trouble waiting their turn and staying seated. These children tend to fidget and squirm and they may get up and move around when it’s not appropriate. All children especially preschoolers have some of these traits. But for children with ADHD these behaviors are common, more extreme, and they interfere with their ability to function at home and at school (Berger, 2018; Feldman, 2014; Mayo Clinic, 2019). Why is this an issue?
While children with ADHD can grow up to be very successful they are at a higher risk of depression, substance abuse, risky sexual acts, and delinquency. They can struggle with poor academic achievement, relationship issues, and low self-esteem (CHADD, 2019; Mayo Clinic, 2019). So what causes ADHD?
One factor has to do with genetics. ADHD tends to run in families. If a sibling or a parent has ADHD it increases the child’s risk. In addition to genetics there are factors in the environment that influence ADHD. Children have a higher risk of developing ADHD if their mother drank, smoked, or took drugs while pregnant, including Acetaminophen (Tylenol). If children have a brain injury, were born prematurely or with a low birth weight they are more at-risk. Children who were exposed to environmental toxins like lead and pesticides have a higher risk (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019; Mayo Clinic, 2019; Newman, 2017). How is ADHD treated?
Drug treatment has been controversial. Doctors will often prescribe stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexadrine. It’s weird that the drugs are stimulants, right? These drugs increase dopamine in the brain, effectively stimulating the child’s ability to concentrate, focus, and be calm. And in the short-term they do tend to improve the child's attention span. But after a few years, children with ADHD do not do any better academically than untreated children. Side effects of the drugs are restlessness, irritability, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, and depression. The long-term effects of drugs on a child’s developing brain are not yet known (Feldman, 2014; Robinson, Smith, Segal, & Ramsey, 2019). What can parents and teachers do to help?
During the child’s behavior therapy parents and teachers can learn techniques like praise or stickers for desired behaviors. When teachers are more structured in the classroom it helps children with ADHD be able to follow the rules and know what to expect. Healthy eating, good sleep habits, and exercise are recommended. Thirty minutes of exercise before school can help children with ADHD focus better and manage their moods (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019; Feldman, 2014; Jacobson, 2019). Is there any way to prevent it?
While people can’t do anything about their genetics, they can avoid things during pregnancy that could harm fetal development such as alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. Reducing the child’s exposure to toxins and pollutants such as lead paint can also help (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person: Through Childhood and adolescence (11thed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). What is ADHD? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
CHADD (2019). About ADHD—Overview. Retrieved from https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/
Feldman, R. S. (2014). Child development: A topical approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Jacobson, R. (2019). ADHD and exercise. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/adhd-and-exercise/
Mayo Clinic (2019). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Retrieved from
Newman, T. (2017). Acetaminophen during pregnancy is related to ADHD. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319930.php
Robinson, L., Smith, M., Segal, J., & Ramsey, D. (2019). ADHD medications. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/medication-for-attention-deficit-disorder-adhd.htm