Anne is a freelancer with a passion for writing and helping others by writing about important topics and issues.
ADHD In Children
ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a disorder that is most commonly diagnosed in early childhood among elementary aged children. However, there are also a large number of persons that do not get diagnosed with the disorder until they reach adulthood. This article will focus on the early childhood signs and symptoms of ADHD, and how it is identified and treated in early childhood.
ADHD is a disorder that impacts parts of the brain related to focus and attention. According to the CHADD National Resource Center on ADHD, about one in ten school aged children are impacted by ADHD ("ADHD Quick Facts"). The tendency of early signs and diagnosis stems from the fact that these types of focus, attention, and hyperactivity issues are more noticeable in children than adults. This is the most common form of ADHD that people are familiar with. There are actually three different subtypes of ADHD that have different manifestations according to these subtypes.
The first subtype of ADHD is the most common, or the “hyperactive-impulsive” type. Boys are more likely to have this subtype of ADHD, which coincides with the fact that more school aged boys are diagnosed with ADHD than females of the same age. Hyperactive-impulsive types show symptoms in more of an expressive and outwardly manner. Some of the typical signs of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD include restlessness, fidgeting, an inability to stay seated or sit still, excessive talking, impatience, blurting out or interrupting others’ sentences, and what is perceived as massive amounts of energy. While it sounds like these types should be extroverted, confident, energetic, and passionate individuals, the symptoms of ADHD often overpower their ability to use these extroverted skill sets to their advantage. School children often have a hard time focusing on the tasks in front of them and are more likely to be called out by teachers for being too talkative and disruptive. Despite this negative association with the hyperactive-impulsive type, these types of ADHDers have a lot of very wonderful skills to learn about and build on as they learn to manage and cope with their symptoms. This is a large reason why early diagnosis and early intervention is so important and crucial for those with ADHD.
The second subtype of ADHD is the “inattentive” type. Girls are more likely to have the symptoms and traits of the inattentive ADHDer than boys. Those with inattentive ADHD typically have trouble focusing because they do not seem to be listening and may appear like they are “zoning out” or daydreaming. Typical signs and symptoms of the inattentive type include difficulties sustaining attention, easily distracted, forgetful, failing to pay close attention to detail, struggles with organization, and failure to follow instructions property. Inattentive types are said to be more quiet, and they tend to internalize their symptoms rather than express them in a more external way. As a result, it can often become very difficult for teachers, parents, and caregivers to identify that there is a problem. If a child is struggling in math, for instance, the parents may think that math is just not their subject. However, the underlying issue could be related to inattentive ADHD. The unique thing about persons with ADHD is that they often tend to hyper-focus on the things they love. A student might have an A in English and an F in math simply because English is their favorite subject, so they are able to hyperfocus and enjoy the class, whereas math class is a struggle because of their lack of interest in the material, leading to more irritability, frustration, and distractibility in the classroom environment. Unfortunately, most inattentive types are not diagnosed in early childhood, and have a tendency to be diagnosed later in their lives. This becomes a struggle because many of these types of ADHDers are more likely to have been misdiagnosed with another disorder such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. For whatever reason, females tend to be misdiagnosed in larger amounts than males in relation to ADHD.
The third and last subtype of ADHD is the “combined” subtype. Those with this subtype of ADHD experience signs and symptoms from both of the other subtypes of ADHD. They may appear inattentive at times, and also appear to be “bouncing off the walls” and very energetic at other times. This can have the appearance to some that the child may be having mood swings, which could potentially lead to a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. The signs and symptoms observed in early childhood are the key to understanding the disorder, but it is often very difficult to distinguish between different mental disorders in children at such a young age, given that manifestations of many mental illnesses can look similar across the board for elementary aged children.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The typical diagnostic process for ADHD in children is very involved and very precise. Children must meet the requirements as specified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness) in order to receive a diagnosis of ADHD. Typically, parents and the child will be given a questionnaire of some sort to complete about the signs and symptoms that they may be presenting. The presence of the disorder strictly must be apparent before the age of 12 and be interfering with home, school, and personal life. If another disorder may explain the symptoms the child is experiencing, the mental health professional might not diagnose the child with ADHD and instead look into this other disorder or label them as “not otherwise specified”. When this happens, it can be detrimental for the child as they could be misdiagnosed with another disorder and instead receive treatment and medications for a disorder that they don’t have. Again, there is much that needs to be revised and revisited in the diagnostic process of ADHD considering the common results of ADHD misdiagnosis in the population.
Treatment for ADHD is typically a two-step process of medication management and therapy. Children with ADHD are most often prescribed a stimulant medication, (Ritalin or Adderall) which they may take during the school day at a certain time. The stimulant medication helps to “calm” or “quiet” their brain enough that they can focus on the task at hand. In addition, children with ADHD will be given therapy and a variety of resources to help them be more successful. IEPs, or individualized education plans, are often written for students with ADHD that require assistance in school. They may receive special accommodations to help ease the symptoms of ADHD and help them to complete tasks and be more successful in the classroom. Special education teachers or assistants will advocate for the child and help them in the classroom in order to meet their needs.
Although ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in childhood, there is some evidence to suggest a wide range of people that get misdiagnosed with another disorder and don’t get diagnosed until later in life. Despite that, the statistics show that ADHD is still a very commonly diagnosed disorder in elementary aged children. Children can manifest the hyperactive-impulsive type, inattentive type, or a combination of both depending on their symptoms. Children are diagnosed with ADHD only if they meet very specific requirements as outlined in the DSM, and once diagnosed, they are given treatment. Treatment consists of a combination of medication, therapy, and special accomodations in the schools. The main issue with ADHD in children is the lack of recognition that many inattentive types get in schools. They often get overlooked and have to deal with their symptoms well into adulthood, leading to bigger struggles later down the line. If more research and attention was given to the diagnostic process of ADHD, then maybe we could prevent many people from going untreated or being misdiagnosed. It is so important for children to learn early on how to manage their symptoms so that they can go on to lead happy and productive lives in adulthood.
“ADHD Quick Facts: ABOUT ADHD.” CHADD, CHADD National Resource Center, 29 Apr. 2020, https://chadd.org/about-adhd/adhd-quick-facts-about-adhd/#:~:text=Attention%2Ddeficit%2Fhyperactivity%20disorder%E2%80%94,or%20hyperactivity%20than%20their%20peers.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Anne Marie Carr