In this article, Dr. Paul White, a child psychologist in Kansas, deals with readers’ questions about how to deal with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Q: What is Attention Deficit Disorder?
A: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is the title given to a cluster of symptoms which are observed in children and that can create significant problems for the child, both at home and at school.
The hallmark symptoms of ADD are a short attention span or inability to stay on task, problems maintaining one’s concentration, being easily distracted by noises or others in the room, being extremely impulsive-responding quickly, talking incessantly or making numerous careless errors, and hyperactivity. This hyperactivity may either be demonstrated as always being “on the go” or may look more like fidgetiness-always having some part of the body moving nervously.
Not all ADD children are hyperactive. Therefore, a child may have extreme problems with attention, concentration, and impulsivity yet not seem exceedingly active or fidgety. This is known as an attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity.
Q: What causes ADD?
A: Children who’ve had a head injury (usually severe, possibly from a bicycle or car accident) or children who’ve had a shortage of oxygen (either at birth or during a seizure or choking incident) may later demonstrate ADD symptoms.
Some children may have ADD as a result of severe problems with allergies or allergic reactions to medicine. Also, diet has been shown to contribute to ADD symptoms in some children. These children are highly reactive to sugar, caffeine, preservatives, and food coloring. Once taken off these foods, their behavior improves significantly.
Other sources of ADD include the presence of a seizure disorder (where the child “blanks out” for a few seconds), thyroid problems, blood sugar disorders such as diabetes or hypoglycemia, and visual tracking problems (where the eyes don’t work together well and the student has a hard time reading).
Probably the most well-known cause of ADD has to do with the child’s nervous system. Many of these children’s bodies have a deficiency in the chemicals of their brain and neurological system that are needed to function properly. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters (“neuro” meaning nerve, “transmitter” meaning communicator), help our nervous system communicate messages to the brain. If these chemicals are lacking, the system doesn’t function well and results in a short attention span, distractibility, and hyperactivity.
Q: How can I help children with ADD?
A: The specific problem that’s causing the ADD needs to be addressed. For many of the causes, appropriate medical treatment is the key to reducing the child’s symptoms and improving behavior. Physicians and psychologists can aid the child, parents, and teacher in coping with the child’s behavior.
Q: How often does ADD occur and at what age does it show up?
A: ADD is estimated to occur in 3 to 5 percent of all children. But it’s found up to eight times as often in boys as in girls. A caution, however: Many girls who have ADD without hyperactivity go unnoticed because they are quiet, compliant, and not a behavior problem.
The age at which ADD symptoms “show up” varies considerably. Many extremely hyperactive boys are noticed as early as 3 years old. Most ADD children with hyperactivity are identified by the second grade. But a large number of children with ADD without hyperactivity may go unnoticed until late elementary or middle school years, at which time they begin to struggle considerably with getting their schoolwork completed and handed in.