Is ADHD a real disorder, since most people show some of the symptoms some of the time?

ADHD is a neuro-biological disorder that is believed to impact the neurotransmitters in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain.  Using PET scans, scientists have noted that the ADHD brain shows distinct differences from the “non” ADHD brain.  Interestingly, the same neurotransmitters found to be associated with ADHD, are thought to cause mood problems like depression and anxiety, but in a different part of the brain.

What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

The condition we now call ADHD has been known for more than a hundred years, but it hasn’t always been called the same thing. Research in the 1970s and 1980s began to show there are different types of attention deficit, but they are all part of the same major condition. In 1994, the official name was changed from ADD (attention deficit disorder) to ADHD. There are three sub-types of ADHD:

  • predominantly inattentive
  • predominantly hyperactive/impulsive
  • combined

Some doctors and mental health professionals still use the term ADD. If you or someone you know has been given this diagnosis, it most likely means you or they have the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD. This is not the individual who is bouncing off the walls or simply can’t sit still. Rather, it’s the person who seems to be always daydreaming, is forgetful, is easily distracted, is disorganized, or just can’t seem to pay attention beyond what one would expect considering the person’s age or developmental level.

Is there definitive test to diagnose ADHD?

ADHD requires a comprehensive assessment that includes several components, including standardized testing, direct observation and obtaining a comprehensive psycho-social history.   A thorough assessment is necessary because other conditions, such as a learning disability or anxiety, may produce many of the same behavioral symptoms commonly associated with ADHD.  Note:  A technology called qEEG, similar to biofeedback, does show very good results in identifying ADHD (as well as some other mental health conditions) brain patterns.  However, the technology is expensive and requires very specialized training to administer, so it isn’t widely utilized amongst professionals that provide ADHD assessments.

Where can I get my child/self evaluated for ADHD?

There are many mental health providers, social service agencies and clinics that provide assessments.  Your best bet is to ask for a referral from a medical professional, friend or family member.  You may also check the internet for a Licensed Psychologist who offers a specialty in assessing ADHD. LDA Minnesota provides complete evaluation and required documentation for accommodations.

Are the medications for ADHD safe?

There have been many advances in the development of medications to treat ADHD.  The most common type of medication is called a psycho-stimulant (Ritalin & Adderell are the most common brand names).  However, other classes of medications are also used.  Under the care of a competent physician specially trained to prescribe medications for ADHD, the drugs used are safe and typically tolerated with minimal side effects.

How effective are medication-free treatments for children?

Parent training and behavior modification can substantially improve the behavior of children with ADHD if these methods are applied consistently and correctly. But like medication, these are only helpful if used faithfully and accurately. Not all families are willing or able to go along with such treatments. The NIMH’s Multimodal Treatment for ADHD (MTA) study indicates that, in general, medications are more effective than psychosocial interventions.

How does ADHD affect a child’s schooling?

Children with ADHD are at increased risk for lower academic performance and social problems (including peer problems and conflicts with the teacher). They have a greater chance of dropping out of school. Many receive lower academic scores due to problems with attention span, hyperactivity and impulsivity. A very typical problem is displayed by children who do not turn in schoolwork to the teacher even though it has been completed. Many have “chaotic” book bags. Entry into middle school is especially challenging for children with ADHD because they are now expected to be able to switch from class to class.

What could and should my child’s school be doing to help?

Children with ADHD may qualify for special education services or accommodations under either of two federal laws: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B [IDEA] or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Children covered by IDEA are entitled to special education services that meet the standards of a free, appropriate education. IDEA also requires that if a child’s behavior impedes learning, a functional behavior analysis must be conducted and a positive behavior plan developed. In addition, schools are prohibited from suspending for more than 10 days students whose behavior results from their disability, unless drugs or weapons are involved or the child is a danger to himself or others.

Section 504 is a civil rights statute that makes it illegal for schools to discriminate against children with disabilities and requires them to provide reasonable accommodations, which may include the provision of services. To be eligible for Section 504, a child must have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity. Because learning is considered a major life activity, children with ADHD are entitled to protection under the law if the condition substantially limits their ability to learn.

Children with ADHD may benefit from modified instructions, special classroom assistance, behavior management and assistive technology (such as tape recorders or visual aids).

If I request an evaluation, doesn’t the school have to do it?

No. The school is only obligated to evaluate a child if they feel there is a substantial impact on the child’s learning or behavior. If the school chooses not to evaluate, then they must supply a written response explaining why they refused to evaluate.

My child is very bright. He can’t have ADHD, too, can he?

Yes he can.  Intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with ADHD.  People with all levels of intelligence may have ADHD.

How common is ADHD in adults? Is it something you grow out of after childhood?

Those who were diagnosed as hyperactive or impulsive as children are more likely to outgrow those conditions.  However, even those people may continue to exhibit the inattentiveness, distractibility, lack of focus and poor organization.  Recent studies indicate that about 1/3 of adults diagnosed with ADHD as a child experienced little impairment as an adult; about 1/3 continue to exhibit symptoms that cause impairment but they’ve learned to cope or compensate with the symptoms; and about 1/3 are actively treated by a physician or mental health professionals.  One must be cautioned to consider that ADHD is often misdiagnosed, so such long term follow up studies should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m not succeeding at work. Is this because of my ADHD?

Coworkers or supervisors may brand you as lazy or unmotivated because you don’t get your work done on time. Despite intelligence, if you’re an adult with ADHD, you find that it takes you much longer to get tasks completed. Or, you may race through a project just to get it done and make careless mistakes. You may find it difficult to stay focused or to finish projects. Adults with ADHD are more likely to lose their jobs. In fact, they hold 50% to 75% more jobs over a course of a 10-year period than average. And, they make on average of $10,000 a year less. Seeking proper treatment can improve job performance.



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