By: Sarah Zucker, PsyD.

Children and ADHDAs children develop, it’s normal for parents to have some anxiety over what is “normal” and what is not. With so much information available, it’s easy to get carried away searching for answers on the Internet. The best advice I can give as a professional, which I realize isn’t very specific, is to trust your instincts as a parent. If you think and sense in your gut that something is wrong, don’t let a pediatrician or teacher dismiss your concerns without getting a second opinion.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one thing parents seem to wonder about often. It’s tough because symptoms can mimic typical behaviors in energetic, curious children. It is also frequently confused for other mental health concerns and learning disabilities. However, ADHD is not just an antsy or scattered child. It is a serious, complex, and very real mental health disorder that can improve drastically with treatment. Diagnosing ADHD can be an in-depth process that often involves several parties (including your child’s school) and can likely be adapted to meet your needs. A psychologist should be able to walk you through and help you explore the best options for you and your child. Many psychologists specialize in testing and can help devise a treatment plan. If your child is diagnosed, it’s important to know that medications are not the only option, although they can be very helpful too.

If you want to know more about ADHD, here are several summarized symptoms listed on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website which are taken from the DSM-5 (the manual professionals use to diagnose). This is not an exhaustive list and is not sufficient for diagnosing ADHD. If this list has you concerned, and you don’t know where to start, your pediatrician or therapist will be able to help you with proper referrals. Our office in San Diego does many psychological assessments and we’re also here to answer your questions. Symptoms of ADHD include:

  1. Careless mistakes. Children with ADHD often make what are seen as “silly” mistakes and have a hard time paying attention to details. This can be frustrating for both the parent and the child.
  1. Inattention and distractibility. Children with ADHD struggle to pay attention to any one task for an extended period of time. They become uninterested in things easily, even if they seem to enjoy them. They can become distracted by things people would consider insignificant, like something mundane happening outside the classroom window.
  1. Lack of follow-through. Much to the chagrin of their parents, children with ADHD often fail to follow-through on tasks. They may need a lot of prompting to successfully finish projects. They may have trouble following directions that are longer than one or two steps. This usually results in homework not being completed or chores being started but not finished. It can also manifest as forgetfulness.
  1. Trouble with organization. Children with ADHD have a difficult time staying or getting organized. This may pertain to their clothing, their school supplies, or their toys. At first, it may seem like they just aren’t putting enough effort in, but even when they try they cannot seem to maintain the level of organization needed to succeed.
  1. Fidgeting. Children with ADHD have a very hard time sitting still, which is especially problematic in school where they are expected to remain seated for long periods of time. They may fidget with their hands, tap their feet, or squirm.
  1. Inability to play quietly and calmly. Children with ADHD seem to just get too excited and can’t play within the rules. They may run when they’re supposed to walk or climb on things that are off-limits.
  1. Impulsivity. Children with ADHD may blurt things out, talk when someone else is talking, or have trouble waiting their turn. They may be seen as “butting-in” to games or conversations.

It’s important to remember that children with ADHD are often struggling with their behaviors as much as, or more, than the people around them. They get the message early on that what they do is not acceptable, but they feel helpless to behave differently. Treating them with compassion and patience is imperative to their well-being, especially since they are at risk for other mental health problems. Early intervention can get your child back on track and help to ensure their success.