Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is a condition that often begins between ages 3 and 6, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And it’s not just a childhood disease. ADHD may continue through the teenage years and into adulthood.
There are three types of ADHD:
- Predominantly inattentive (trouble focusing, following instructions, and finishing tasks).
- Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive (constantly on the go, talking excessively, and interrupting others).
- Combined (symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity).
Millions of Children Are Diagnosed With ADHD
Studies show that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD continues to increase. About 10% of children ages 3 to 17 (6 million kids) have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Boys (13%) are more likely than girls (6%) to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD. “Boys are also more likely to have the hyperactive-impulsive type. This type of ADHD is easier to spot than the quieter child who is inattentive,” says child psychiatrist Tiffany R. Farchione, M.D., who reviews drugs to treat ADHD at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
If you suspect your child might have ADHD, see your pediatrician or health care professional. Also have your child’s vision, hearing and anything else that might contribute to inattention checked. A doctor might diagnose ADHD or refer your child to a mental health specialist for evaluation.
Treatments for Children with ADHD
The FDA has approved two types of medications – stimulants and non-stimulants – to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve functioning in children as young as age 6.
Despite their name, stimulants – which contain various forms of methylphenidate and amphetamine – have a calming effect on hyperactive children with ADHD, Farchione says. Stimulants are thought to increase brain levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, attention and movement.
The FDA has also approved four non-stimulants to treat the symptoms of ADHD: Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine), Kapvay (clonidine) and Qelbree (viloxazine). Talk with your health care professional about what medications may be best for your child.
In addition to medication, some children with ADHD receive behavioral therapy to help manage symptoms and provide added coping skills. Moreover, concerned parents can reach out to their children’s schools and community support groups for information and guidance on how to cope with ADHD.
Consequences of Untreated ADHD
Left untreated, ADHD can have serious consequences. A child may fall behind in school, encounter difficulties in friendships, and have conflicts with parents, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Studies show that children with untreated ADHD have more emergency room visits and are more likely to have self-inflicted injuries than those treated for the disorder. Untreated adolescents (children ages 10 to 18) with ADHD are more likely to take risks – such as drinking and driving – and have twice as many motor vehicle accidents as those who are treated.
Testing the Effects of Medication in Younger Kids
FDA-approved ADHD medications currently on the market have been tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials of children 6 years and older. The FDA is now asking for clinical trials participation of children as young as 4 and 5.
“We know ADHD medications are being prescribed for younger children, and we think it’s essential that the data from clinical studies reflect the safety and effectiveness for this age group,” Farchione says.