April 18, 2006
Attention Defecit Disorder
David Prescott, Ph.D.
All people, children and adults, sometimes have trouble paying attention. For many of us, this may be a temporary event related to fatigue, worry, boredom, or being preoccupied. However for some people, difficulty paying attention, and in some cases being highly impulsive or hyperactive, can lead to significant problems in school, work or home life. In these cases, a more comprehensive evaluation for attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) may be important.
How Widespread is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder? Not surprisingly, estimates of the prevalence of Attention Deficit Disorder vary, depending on the age range being studied and the particular sample of people used by investigators. Generally, estimates for school-age children range from 3-7%, and estimates for adults range from 2-4%. This makes attention deficit disorder one of the most common mental health problems for our children and teenagers.
What is Attention Deficit/Hyperativity Disorder? It is important to remember that many children and some adults will have trouble paying attention at times. In identifying attention deficit disorder in children, the child has to have more difficulty with attention and related problems than other children his/her own age. Also, the attention problems must interfere with at least two areas of life (home, school, friendships) and be present for at least six months.
Symptoms of attention deficit disorder include:
Fails to give close attention to detail or makes careless mistakes
Has difficulty sustaining attention
Appears not to be listening
Has difficulty with organization
Is easily distracted
Some children also have hyperactivity along with attention problems. Symptoms of this include:
Fidgets with hands and feet, or fidgets in chair
Runs about or climbs excessively
Difficulty waiting or taking turns
Acts as if driven by a motor
It There One Single Test that tells you whether you or your child has ADD? In a word, no. Even with the progress in understanding attention problems and their treatment, diagnosis of this problem requires several sources of information. It is important not only to talk with the child, but to talk to his/her parents and teachers. Observation of behavior in multiple settings is important. Psychological tests can help compare one child’s test performance with normative data. Psychological tests may also reveal other important problem areas. A thorough medical workup is typically helpful to identify other conditions that might cause attention problems.
What Kinds of Treatments Are Effective for Attention Deficit Disorders? Research supports that multimodal treatment, or treatment in several different forms, is the most effective approach to attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Components of effective treatment include:
Parent and Child Education – Both parents and children should learn about AD/HD, including what types of problems go along with this diagnosis. Parents then will benefit from learning helpful ways to manage this problem, such as setting small, concrete goals, reinforcing desirable behavior, and being consistent.
Behavior Management Techniques – Behavior management can be very helpful in helping children pay attention, organizing themselves, and reducing hyperactivity. These typically require some assistance from a qualified mental health professional.
Medications – Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, are the most frequently used types of medications to treat AD/HD. Your pediatrician or a child psychiatrist can answer questions and discuss the risks and benefits of medications.
Educational Programs – Children with AD/HD often struggle in school. Focused programs can help improve their behavior and academic performance.