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ADHD - An overview

10 Aug 2009 9:40 PM - Dr Roger Morris

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental problem which results in poor concentration and control of impulses. It can affect children’s learning and social skills, and also family functioning. About 3-5 of every 100 children in Australia have ADHD. It is much more common in boys than girls.

The diagnosis of ADHD must be made by a trained and experienced health professional (usually a Specialist Paediatrician or Paediatric Psychiatrist) using information from both the family and the school. Common symptoms and signs are:

  • Inattention - Difficulty concentrating, forgetting instructions, moving from one task to another without completing anything.
  • Impulsivity - Talking over the top of others, losing control of emotions easily, being accident prone.
  • Overactivity - Constant fidgeting and restlessness.

A diagnosis can only be made after a range of information is collected – especially by parents. The symptoms must be obvious in most areas of the child’s life. There is no single, simple test for ADHD. If you are concerned about your child, see your GP who can arrange for a referral to the appropriate medical specialist for detailed assessment.

Treatment options

  • Medication - At this point, stimulant medication is the single most effective treatment for the symptoms of ADHD (methylphenidate, dexamphetamine, atomoxetine). Stimulants act on the parts of the brain involved in self-control, helping to focus attention and may also help filter out unnecessary information. Stimulant medication is probably the most highly researched of any medication used in children. They greatly improve concentration, impulse control and overactivity in about 8 children in 10 with ADHD. The main side effects of stimulants are decreased appetite, poor weight gain and difficulty falling asleep. Less common side effects include stomach aches, headaches and dizziness. These are usually dose related. Stimulants are not addictive in the dose used to treat ADHD.
  • Non-drug options - Other strategies such as positive parenting techniques, home and classroom strategies, boosting self-esteem, building social skills and planning the physical/learning environment can all help. Cognitive behavioural techniques and counseling for both the child and the family is also often a great help.

Other things to consider:

  • Acknowledge and reward achievements and positive behaviour frequently
  • Attend to learning difficulties promptly
  • Structure a quiet place without clutter for homework
  • Talk with the child about the consequences of their actions

ADHD support services