Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(8):online

See related article on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD can cause three main behavioral problems: hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. It's unclear what causes ADHD, but it may result from problems in the brain.

How do I know if my child has it?

Your child's doctor can tell if your child has ADHD by talking to you, teachers, and others who know how your child behaves. The doctor can also figure out when the symptoms usually occur and how bad they are.

Inattention can cause these symptoms:

  • Problems following instructions

  • Problems paying attention, being distracted easily

  • Forgetfulness

  • Disorganization

  • Problems planning ahead

  • Problems keeping track of things

  • Appearing not to listen to the teacher or caregiver

Hyperactivity or impulsivity can cause these symptoms:

  • Interrupting others

  • Running or climbing at wrong times or places

  • Talking too much

  • Constant restlessness

  • Inability to play quietly

  • Blurting out answers at school

  • Problems waiting his or her turn

How is it treated?

Many children with ADHD are prescribed a stimulant medicine. Your child's doctor may also prescribe other medicines. Behavioral interventions, such as rewarding good behavior, are also effective.

Changes in your child's classroom may help improve ADHD symptoms. For example, moving your child closer to the front of the room can limit distractions, and using charts and checklists can help him or her stay on task.

Where can I get more information?

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Web site: http://www.aap.org/parents.html

Children and Adults with ADHD

Mental Health America

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