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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
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Understanding the basics of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) will give you the tools to help your child live—and thrive—with her condition.
However, in order to confirm that your child definitely has ADHD, you will need an official diagnosis from a qualified health professional.
For these reasons, early diagnosis and intervention are very important.
While no single cause has been conclusively identified, doctors and researchers believe that ADHD symptoms are linked to neurodevelopmental problems—issues with the brain functions responsible for emotional control and learning.
There is clear evidence that ADHD has a genetic component and tends to run in families. However, scientists are also studying other possible causes and risk factors, including:
Boston Children's psychiatrist-in-chief David DeMaso, MD, and members of his team have created the ADHD Experience Journal, an online collection of thoughts, reflections and advice from kids and caregivers dealing with ADHD.
Your child’s exact symptoms will depend on what type of ADHD he has. In general, a child with ADHD will show some of the following warning signs:
The Advocating Success for Kids (ASK) Program at Boston Children's Hospital works with children under the age of 14 who are experiencing learning, developmental, emotional or behavioral problems in school or at home. Learn more about ASK.
You and your family play an essential role in your child’s treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s critical that you share your observations and ideas with your child’s treating physician, and that you have all the information you need to fully understand the treatment team’s explanations and recommendations.
You’ve probably thought of many questions to ask. It’s often very helpful to jot down your thoughts and questions ahead of time and bring them with you, along with a notebook, to your child’s appointment. That way, you will have all of your questions in front of you and can make notes to take home. (If your child is old enough, you can encourage him or her to write down questions for the doctor, too.)
Initial questions to ask your doctor might include:
Keep in mind that your doctor will want to ask you some questions, too. These might include the following:
Q: Can our family pediatrician help treat my child’s attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
A: Primary care pediatricians play a significant role in caring for children with ADHD. Early diagnosis and management can help improve your child’s main symptoms, and allow him to build and maintain healthier friend and family relationships.
Once a child has been diagnosed with ADHD and has started treatment, pediatricians should remain involved in follow-up care by performing complete medical, family, social and educational evaluations on a routine basis.
Interviews or questionnaires completed by parents, teachers and counselors can provide valuable information for your family pediatrician. Your child’s primary care pediatrician can also help answer questions and concerns about possible side effects from medication, and can guide you in the process of obtaining and collecting information about your child’s behavior at home and at school.
Q: How do I know if my child needs to be referred to a specialist for her ADHD?
A: Whether your child needs more involved care from an ADHD specialist depends on your relationship with your primary care doctor. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD; these guidelines can serve as a useful tool for your pediatrician, ensuring that he or she recognizes the symptoms of ADHD and understands how best to treat it.
Successful treatment for ADHD requires a substantial time investment and long-term commitment—not only from your family, but also from all the medical professionals involved in your child’s care. If your child’s pediatrician is not comfortable or experienced in providing this level of care—or if you feel like you might need a second opinion—you should always feel free to ask for a referral to a specialist.
Q: Is there a simple test to diagnose ADHD?
A: Unfortunately, no. ADHD is diagnosed after an extensive evaluation that may include one or more of the following components:
Q: Does behavioral therapy work for treating kids with ADHD? How can I take part in this therapy?
A: Behavioral therapy is very helpful in managing ADHD for many children. In fact, research has suggested that medication for ADHD is more effective when combined with behavioral modification therapy.
As a parent, you can be involved in your child’s behavioral modification therapy by:
Q: His classroom teacher says my child has ADHD; what should I do?
A: ADHD is a medical condition, and only a qualified medical professional can diagnose your child. If a teacher or other school staff member is telling you they believe your child has ADHD, they are most likely expressing concern about the impact of his symptoms on his education or interactions at school.
If you, other family members, teachers or other adults in your child’s life believe your child may be showing signs of ADHD, it’s important to talk to your family pediatrician or to another licensed health professional who is trained in diagnosing and treating ADHD.
Q: How will having ADHD affect my child’s life in the long term?
A: ADHD responds well to both behavioral modification therapy and medication, but early detection and intervention are vital.
If left untreated, ADHD can lead to many problems, including:
While the symptoms of ADHD may change—and in some instances improve considerably— as your child ages, current scientific research suggests that up to 40 percent of children with ADHD will continue to experience problems into adulthood without proper treatment.
Getting the right diagnosis and care early on will enhance your child's personal, emotional and educational development and optimize her quality of life as she grows.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”