Imagine being in a constant state of motion—being extremely restless, having no patience, always needing stimulation, blurting out the first thing that comes to mind without considering the consequences and jumping from one task to another without finishing any of them. This is what it’s like to have attention deficit disorder (ADD), one of the most common mental disorders among children, affecting perhaps as many as 3 percent to 5 percent of all school-age kids in the U.S. Unfortunately, researchers don’t yet know exactly what causes ADD. It’s been attributed to heredity, pre- and postnatal injury (such as fetal alcohol syndrome, maternal smoking and head trauma), exposure to toxic materials (such as lead or pesticides) and a lower level of activity in areas of the brain that control attention.
Patterns of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity characterize ADD. Examples of inattention include:
- becoming easily distracted
- not paying attention to details
- not listening when addressed
- difficulty following instructions
Some examples of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:
- talking excessively
- fidgeting with hands or feet
- difficulty remaining seated
- difficulty playing quietly
- blurting out answers before hearing the whole question
- difficulty waiting for a turn
- interrupting others
Of course, not every child who taps his or her pencil on a desk or jumps out of the chair at the dinner table has ADD. Mental health professionals use a specific set of guidelines to determine whether a child has the disorder. Symptoms like the ones described above, for example, must appear before age 7 and last for at least six months. They also must occur more frequently or be more severe than in other children of the same age. And they must pose a real problem in at least two areas of the child’s life. So a youngster whose schoolwork has suffered but whose friendships and family relationships are fine would not be diagnosed with ADD.
If you suspect that your child has ADD, talk to your pediatrician. The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner he or she can start a treatment program.