Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(9):1811-1812

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a common health problem in children. Children with ADHD are hyperactive—they can't sit still. They are also impulsive and easily distracted. They have trouble coping at school and at home.

Some people think ADHD is caused by bad parenting or by eating too much sugar. The truth is, we still do not know the real cause of ADHD. We do know that it is a problem in the brain. We also know that ADHD can run in families. ADHD often gets in the way of learning and keeps the child from doing well in school.

What should I look for in my child?

Some signs of ADHD are listed in the box below. There are other things to look for, too. Children with ADHD may be very aggressive. They may pull hair, pinch or hit. They may have temper tantrums. Almost all children who have ADHD show some signs of the problem before they are 7 years old.

What if I think my child has ADHD?

If you are worried that your child has ADHD, you can talk to your child's teacher at school or day care. Ask this person if your child has a short attention span or is hard to control. A child has to show signs of ADHD in at least two places (such as school and home) to get a diagnosis of ADHD. In addition, the signs have to last for at least six months.

Lack of attentionHyperactivity
Doesn't pay close attention to detailsOften fidgets or squirms when sitting
Has trouble paying attentionCan't stay in seat
Doesn't seem to listen when spoken toRuns about or climbs when he or she shouldn't
Fails to finish tasksCan't play quietly
Has difficulty organizing tasksAlways “on the go”
Avoids tasks that need a lot of effortTalks too much
Often loses things needed for home or schoolBlurts out answers
Is easily distractedCan't wait his or her turn
Is often forgetfulOften interrupts others

How can my doctor tell if my child has ADHD?

Your doctor will ask you about your child's behavior problems. The more details you can give about your child, the easier it will be for your doctor to decide. You might also have a psychologist do some tests. Here are some questions your doctor might ask you:

  • How well does your child get along with brothers and sisters, schoolmates and other children?

  • Does your child have trouble getting schoolwork done? or jobs at home?

What can I do to help my child with ADHD?

You can do many things that will make life easier for you and your child with ADHD. Your doctor will give you advice to help your child study, control behavior and have better self-esteem. There are also some medicines that may help your child concentrate better. The best results come when parents, doctors and teachers work together to make a special plan for the child, at home and at school.

Where can I get more information about ADHD?

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • 8181 Professional Place, Suite 201

  • Landover, MD 20785

  • Telephone: 1-800-233-4050

  • Web site: http://www.chadd.org/

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