A Parent’s Guide to Understanding ADHD in Children: Background & Diagnosis

A young child jumping on a couch as her mother sits nearby with her head in her hands

Children and teens are complicated. Their behavior can be a wildcard. There’s a lot going on inside their growing bodies and developing brains. They might be going through new social experiences, growing emotionally, learning the language, learning social behavior, or going through hormonal changes. Of course, none of this makes it easier for a parent when their child exhibits irrational, impulsive, or out-of-control behavior. 

So, at what point does a parent seek further assessment or expert advice on their child’s behavior? It’s not a black and white answer, but for parents who wonder about hyperactivity in their child, here’s some information that might satiate some doubts. 

Let’s look at hyperactivity disorder in children and what that might look like and mean for you as a parent. 

What is ADHD and How Did the Medical Community Arrive at the Current Definition?

Impulsivity and inattentiveness are natural characteristics of most children. For a long time, parents and teachers brushed it off as nothing more than natural child development, but over the years studies of excessive hyperactivity—as the study of the brain and brain development advanced—became more sophisticated. 

While children and adolescents engaging in hyperactive or impulsive behavior is natural to a degree, some children will exhibit more intense degrees of this behavior to the point that it begins to hinder their personal relationships, academic performance, stability, etc. 

The first cited example of a similar disorder to modern ADHD is Sir Alexander Crichton in 1798. This Scottish physician published some of the first academic and medical inquiries into the idea of attention. Even in these early observations, there was some understanding that the behavior was a result of the nerves. As the study of the brain continued, the links and specifics became a little clearer. 

The concept of inattention disorders spread into the mainstream with illustrated children’s stories of “Fidgety Phil.” The character was created by German physician Heinrich Hoffman. The cartoon managed to get ideas of this disorder into the general public. 

Today, ADHD is better understood and cited as a common neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood. Its effects on brain and brain chemistry are also better understood.

So What is ADHD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a common mental disorder that affects children and adults with symptoms that include:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Impulsivity

Parents may notice that their child has high activity levels that are often uncontrolled, or their child is unable to sit still for any period of time. 

What are the Statistics of Children and Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder? 

According to data from the CDC, about 6.1 million children in the United States between 2 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD. Scientists and medical doctors have not yet successfully pinpointed the causes for the disorder, but there is some evidence that there is a genetic component. About 3 out of 4 children diagnosed with ADHD have a relative that also exhibits symptoms or has been diagnosed. 

Other statistics from 2016 show that: 

  • 2.4 percent of young children aged 2 to 5 years were diagnosed
  • 2.4 million school-age children aged 6 to 11 were diagnosed
  • 13.6 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 were diagnosed

How is My Child Diagnosed? 

Many parents may worry about their child’s behavior, but just because your child is restless and has trouble completing their homework does not mean that they have ADHD. So, diagnosis can be a couple of steps. First, you can speak to teachers and get a sense of your child’s behavior. Of course, speaking to your primary care physician or pediatrician is also top of the list. Your primary care physician or general practitioner can then refer you to someone that may specialize in these diagnoses. 

Detailed assessments include:

  • A physical examination that helps to rule out other underlying physical ailments that may be a cause for the behavior
  • A series of interview sessions with you and your child to better assess the behavior
  • Interviews, data, reports, from teachers, caretakers, tutors, etc, that may have observed the behavior

There is no single test that clearly diagnoses this disorder, and this is why parents should be proactive and engage with their pediatrician or primary care physician. 

What Should I Know as a Parent?  

As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child diagnosed with ADHD is to learn as much as you can about the disorder. This encourages a profound understanding of why a child might behave the way they do with this condition. Learning the fundamental traits of ADHD can help parents structure productive habits in their child’s lives that help them thrive. 

Maintaining an open conversation with your physician and everyone in the home helps parents establish a connection and understanding of the way their child’s minds work. This allows for more empathy and better decisions in how to help a child shape their behavior. The goal is to provide the child the interventions they need and that are right for them, to help them learn how to function productively as they grow older. 

As a parent, you are part of the treatment. The more you know and understand, the better you can help your child adapt and lead a healthy and fruitful life. 

New Challenges For Children During Covid-19

After a year of having to learn virtually or stay at home for longer than usual, many children are having difficulty concentrating or returning to a routine. Some data suggest that ADHD is a popular topic as the pandemic wanes and as physicians encounter difficulties with young children and teenagers. Data suggest that diagnosis of ADHD increased during 2020. So while all of this is still being figured out, if you notice behavioral issues with your child, talk to a professional that can help you assess the situation. 

Have Questions About ADHD in Children? Talk to a Pediatrician Today 

At Pediatrics on Demand, we know the worries that parents suffer as they encounter difficult behavior in their children. The good news is that science and understanding of some of these conditions have advanced significantly. Your primary care doctor and pediatrician is your first line of defense and a starting point for helping your child with ADHD. 

Want to learn more? Have questions about your child’s hyperactive or inattentive behavior? Call us today and speak to an experienced professional.