ADHD: a step-by-step guide for parents

How would you know if your child has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Are Ritalin and its cousins fashionable drugs for parents and teachers who're unable to control active children, or are they miracle cures? Will hyperactivity disappear as a result of omega-3 and omega-6 supplementation and dietary adjustments?

If you've been worrying about an unruly child, this guide might help you understand things better. It contains up-to-the-minute information based on the latest international research and studies.

STEP 1: Understand the important background information
A quiet dreamer and an overactive child may suffer from the same problem. That’s because attention-deficit problems may manifest in three main symptoms. These are:

• Struggling to concentrate or sustain concentration
• Hyperactivity
• Impulsivity

The main symptoms may occur on their own or in combination, dividing the condition into three sub-groups:

• Attention distraction without hyperactivity (ADD). This usually affects girls who're likely to be quiet dreamers.
• Attention deficit with mainly impulsivity and hyperactivity (ADHD). This usually manifests in very active boys.
• A combination type where the child has definite problems with concentration and is also impulsive and hyperactive.

The problems don't end here. On average, 40% of children with ADD or ADHD also have reading and learning problems, depression or other problems.

STEP 2: Answer the following questions in terms of concentration symptoms:
• Does your child struggle to pay proper attention to finer details and often make unnecessary mistakes doing homework and tasks around the house?
• Does your child struggle to concentrate on one task?
• Does your child often not pay attention or listen when you talk directly to her?
• Does your child struggle to complete school assignments, duties around the house or a series of tasks, even though she understands what she should do and isn’t rebellious?
• Does your child behave in a disorganised and muddled way?
• Does your child avoid or hate tasks where she has to think a lot?
• Does your child lose things required to complete a task, such as pencils, books and equipment?
• Does your child become easily distracted by things that have nothing to do with the task at hand such as a dog barking, a cellphone ringing or the sound of music?
• Does your child become forgetful when it comes to routine tasks?

If you've answered "yes" to six of these questions, your child may be one of the "quiet dreamers". Quiet dreamers are disorganised and often live in a world of their own. They struggle to plan ahead and complete tasks.

Now answer these questions on hyperactivity and impulsivity:
• Does your child forever fidget or have constantly busy hands or feet? Does he struggle to remain seated in the classroom?
• Does your child run around, climb and clamber more than other children?
• Does he struggle to take part in any activity without screaming or talking at the top of his voice?
• Does he find it difficult to remain silent or talk softly while playing or doing something?
• Does he act as though he is being propelled by a battery?
• Does he talk incessantly?
• Does he spontaneously give answers before questions have been asked?
• Does he struggle to wait his turn or take turns at all?
• Does he often interrupt conversations or games by beginning to talk or forcing himself on others?

• If you've answered "yes" to six of these questions your child may suffer from attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These children often pose a danger to themselves because they act so impulsively. (The last three questions refer to impulsivity.)
• If you've answered "yes" to the same number of questions in each section your child's lack of concentration and hyperactivity are equally prominent. He probably fidgets constantly and does everything except what he's supposed to be doing.
• Six "yes" answers, or if you’re in doubt, mean you should take your child to a specialist rather than ignore the condition.
• If you're concerned but have answered "no" to most questions, your child is probably an introverted quiet type.

STEP 3: Be more observant
If your child has one of the following problems, treatment and teaching methods may be used to help him:
• Learning problems – reading and learning problems and dyslexia are six times more prevalent among children with ADD or ADHD than among other children.
• Oppositional defiant disorder and disruptive behaviour disorder – your child may act destructively, oppose authority, argue a lot with you or his teachers, lose his temper easily, taunt others or refuse to obey rules.
• Depression – these children often have violent tantrums. They’re also often sad and weepy, don't mix easily with other children, don't want to eat, are self-derogatory, and often have problems sleeping.
• Anxiety – about one third of children with ADD or ADHD also suffer from anxiety.
• Tourette's syndrome – about 75% of children with Tourette's also have ADD or ADHD. Tourette's syndrome is characterised by repetitive, involuntary mannerisms such as a continuous contraction of facial muscles (facial tics) or the sudden utterance of sounds or swearwords.

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