ADHD in Children: Symptoms and Treatment

A short attention span and high energy level don't necessarily mean your child has ADHD—there are many reasons why kids may be hyper or have trouble concentrating. However, some kids struggle more than others to sit still and pay attention, and it causes problems for them in their daily lives. 

If you have a child who seems to bounce off the walls or who can’t focus long enough to get work done, it’s wise to be concerned about the possibility of ADHD.

Parenting strategies for ADHD
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Symptoms

Just like adults, children may present with one of three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation: Children with the inattentive presentation of ADHD struggle to focus and stay on task. They may appear to be daydreaming often, and they may struggle to stay organized.
  • Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation: Kids with the hyperactive presentation are impulsive and can’t sit still. They often squirm and fidget in their chairs and seem to have endless energy.
  • Combined presentation: The combined presentation causes impairment in attention as well as hyperactivity.

To meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, symptoms must interfere with a child’s daily life in some form. For example, an inattentive child may struggle to understand homework assignments because they weren't paying attention in class. Or a hyperactive child may have difficulty maintaining friendships because their impulsive behavior tends to irritate their peers.

ADHD may be diagnosed as early as preschool. By definition, symptoms must be present prior to the age of 12 years.

ADHD Evaluation

If you or your child's teacher suspects your child may have ADHD, it's important to seek an evaluation. Early intervention may potentially prevent the emergence of further symptoms and secondary conditions such as anxiety or oppositional defiant behaviors.

There isn’t a specific lab test that is used to diagnose ADHD. Instead, a pediatrician or mental health professional can evaluate a child’s symptoms and determine if the criteria are met. Often, several different methods are used to obtain information about a child’s behavior, such as:

  • Teacher report forms collect information from teachers about a child's behavior and attention span in the school setting. Reports from teachers can be instrumental in determining how much difficulty a child has staying on task and remaining seated compared to their peers. Feedback about a child’s peer interactions can also be helpful as some children with ADHD struggle to maintain friendships.
  • Parent report forms are used to rate a child’s behavior in the home. A mental health professional may inquire about a child’s ability to follow directions, play quietly, or wait for their turn in the conversation.
  • Parent and child interviews will help the clinician learn more about your child's development and family history.

What to Bring

You may also be asked to bring the following items with you to the evaluation:

  • Your child's medical records, your contact information, and contact information for your child's pediatrician
  • Names and contact information for teachers and any other adults involved in a supervisory role with your child, such as in after-school programs
  • Any prior testing results such as IQ testing, achievement tests, personality assessments, and any previous ADHD evaluations, as well as the contact information for and names of the professionals who conducted them
  • Report cards and notes from your child's school
  • Individualized education plans (IEPs), if applicable
  • Insurance information

Any adult in a supervisory role to your child may also be asked to fill out forms, which you should bring with you to the evaluation if asked. You may be asked to provide your doctor with written consent to contact these individuals as well.

Treatment Options for Children With ADHD

Sometimes parents are hesitant to discuss concerns about ADHD because they fear children will be put on medication with terrible side effects. The good news is, there are several different types of medications (such as Concerta, Clonidine, and Strattera) available for ADHD.

There are also many other types of treatment that don’t involve medication. Parent training can be very effective. This involves a professional assisting parents with learning various behavior modification strategies and discipline techniques that can reduce behavior problems associated with ADHD.

School accommodations can also be helpful for your child. Sometimes, simple strategies—such as having a child sit near the front of the classroom to reduce distractions—can be beneficial.

A school psychologist or mental health professional may be able to make suggestions to assist teachers in providing a child with a learning environment that can reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Parenting Strategies

Raising a child with ADHD can be stressful. Children with ADHD are more likely to be expelled from daycare and school, and they may act out more in the home. It can also be a challenge to get them to do their homework and to comply with instructions.

Children with ADHD also tend to have higher rates of accidental injuries. They tend to get injured from falls off furniture after excessive climbing, falling or jumping out of windows or off decks, unbuckling restraints and standing up in the car or stroller, or even accidentally drinking poison, which all result in more emergency room visits.

They often require constant supervision and more structure than other children. Here are a few behavior modification strategies that are often taught in parent training programs:

  • Provide positive attention. Positive playtime reduces attention-seeking behavior. And it will make your consequences more effective.
  • Give effective instructions. Gain your child’s full attention before giving directions. Turn off the television, establish eye contact, and place a hand on your child’s shoulder before saying, “Please clean your room.” Give one instruction at a time. And ask your child to repeat back to you what they heard to make sure they fully understand.
  • Praise your child's effort. Catch your child being good and point it out. Praise motivates children with ADHD to behave and frequent feedback is important.
  • Establish rewards. Reward systems can be a great way to help kids with ADHD stay on track. Establish a few target behaviors, such as staying at the table during a meal or using gentle touches with a pet.
  • Use consistent consequences. Placing a child in time-out, taking away privileges, and allowing for natural consequences can be effective discipline techniques.

Strategies for School

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's important for parents, teachers, and healthcare providers to work together to help the child succeed in school. Here are some other tools that could be helpful:

  • Accommodations: Extra time to complete tests or having a seat placed in a quiet area can increase a child's chances of success.
  • A behavior modification plan: Forcing a child with ADHD to stay in for recess may worsen behavior problems, but taking away other privileges may be effective.
  • A behavior management plan that carries between home and school: A child may receive points or tokens from their teacher that can be exchanged for privileges at home, such as watching TV or using a computer.
  • Structure in the home: A consistent homework time (with scheduled breaks) and a homework area that is free from distractions can help your child get their work done.

It may also be helpful to create checklists that remind them of what they should pack in their backpack each day. Then, they'll require fewer reminders from you to be responsible.

Your child's teacher, guidance counselor, and therapist may be able to assist you in developing the best plan to help your child succeed academically.

A Word From Verywell

Although there isn't a cure for ADHD, the symptoms can usually be well managed. Your child's symptoms are also likely to change with age, which is normal. Your child's treatment will likely need to be adjusted over time, however, so it's important to continue monitoring symptoms and progress.

Although raising a child with ADHD poses some extra challenges, with support and appropriate interventions, kids with ADHD can thrive.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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