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- Is ADHD a learning disability?
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- ADHD in girls: Why is it missed?
- What should I do if my ADHD child isn’t coping in a mainstream school?
- Should I medicate my child if they have been diagnosed with ADHD?
Although attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has a high prevalence among children, at times, people don’t seem to understand properly the symptoms of this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Over the last 2 decades, I have observed cases where the parents get worried even when their curious toddler is on the move to explore their environment. On the other hand, a child with ADHD is sometimes brought in for professional consultation late because the parents considered inattention and hyperactivity normal for their kid’s age.
Early diagnosis and access to intervention services can play a vital role in equipping the parents and the child with appropriate management strategies. Therefore, it becomes all the more important that parents and caregivers know what ADHD really is and how it manifests in children and adolescents.
Statistics on ADHD
The worldwide prevalence of ADHD is 2.2% to 17.8%, and it is more common in younger children than adolescents.
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health 2016, almost 9.4% of children aged 2-17 in the US had received an ADHD diagnosis, and 5.4 million (8.4%) were living with the disorder. ADHD was found to be more prevalent in boys (14%) than girls (6.3%). Almost 62% of children with ADHD were taking medication for their symptoms, while 46.7% received behavioral therapy.
In the US, the average age of ADHD onset (when the symptoms get noticed by parents and caregivers) is 6. The CDC reports that for children with severe ADHD, the average age of diagnosis is 5 years and for children with moderate ADHD, the average age of diagnosis is 7 years.
Classification of ADHD
Based on the predominant symptoms, ADHD is classified into three types:
- Predominantly inattentive: Child exhibits most symptoms of inattention.
- Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive: Child displays most symptoms of hyperactivity and/or impulsivity.
- Mixed: Child presents with symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity.
On a continuum of symptoms, children can be diagnosed as having mild, moderate, or severe ADHD. Before arriving at an ADHD diagnosis, a trained professional will rule out similar symptoms of hyperactivity or inattention displayed during a psychiatric episode or as a result of any mental disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety, or oppositional defiant disorder).
Risk factors for ADHD
The exact causes of ADHD remain unknown, but the following risk factors increase the likelihood of a child developing ADHD:
- Genetics: Since many children with ADHD have a positive family history, it is believed that genes play an important role in causing ADHD.
- Brain structure and function: Studies on brain function and structure have suggested that the brains of children with ADHD are wired differently.
- Premature birth and low birth weight are also risk factors.
- Brain damage during or after birth is considered another high-risk factor.
- Epilepsy: Children with epilepsy are at greater risk of having ADHD.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD
Children with ADHD can exhibit a spectrum of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Those diagnosed with the disorder also differ in whether they are more inattentive or predominantly hyperactive.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other health professionals follow the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) criteria in giving an ADHD diagnosis.
ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder in DSM-5. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child has to display symptoms before the age of 12, and these symptoms should persist across settings (e.g., home and school) for at least 6 months. ADHD-related symptoms adversely impact a child’s social and academic achievements.
Here is a list of common ADHD symptoms included in the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5:
- Exhibits poor listening skills
- Gets distracted by unimportant or extraneous stimuli
- Misplaces or loses things required to complete an activity
- Fails to remember scheduled activities
- Has reduced attention span
- Struggles with following instructions or completing assigned tasks (for example, schoolwork)
- Avoids initiating activities that require concentration (such as homework)
- Fails to look at the details and makes mistakes in schoolwork or daily activities
- Fidgets and keeps moving while sitting
- Exhibits constant restlessness that is difficult to control
- Is constantly on the go or keeps moving around
- Struggles with playing quietly
- Is overly talkative
- Finds it difficult to wait for their turn
- Keeps interrupting others
- Blurts answers before the question is completed
A considerable number of children with ADHD remain undiagnosed. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that any child between the ages of 4 and 18 who presents with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity should be evaluated for ADHD.
Is ADHD a learning disability?
It is important to know that ADHD doesn’t affect the ability to learn or memorize; therefore, it’s not considered a learning disability.
The reason why people sometimes confuse ADHD with a learning disability is that between 31% and 45% of children with ADHD also have an learning disability. The co-occurrence of these two conditions makes learning more challenging.
Effects of ADHD on academic achievement
Although ADHD is not a learning disability, inattention and impulsivity can adversely impact the academic performance of your child. The achievement problems faced by children with ADHD usually stem more from inattentiveness than hyperactivity.
- Inattention or reduced attention span and distractibility can make focusing on a given task difficult.
- Inability to focus on the details of a given task can make schoolwork challenging and lead to thoughtless mistakes.
- Children with ADHD struggle with organizing tasks and activities, so they tend to lose things, miss the steps of given instructions, and forget planned activities. This disorganization can impair academic achievement.
- Executive functioning includes mental skills such as prioritizing tasks, organizing thoughts, scheduling tasks, and exercising self-control. Children with ADHD have issues with executive functioning, which negatively affects their academic and social achievements.
Special education services for ADHD
Children with ADHD can be eligible for special education services if their symptoms adversely impact their academic achievement.
ADHD is not listed as a distinct special need under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so it has to be considered under “Other Health Impairment (OHI).” If ADHD leads to reduced responsiveness and alertness to academic instruction and academic underachievement due to these symptoms, it can make a child eligible for special education services.
A holistic approach to ADHD
You also need to take care of yourself so that you have the energy to keep pace with your child.