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Recognizing AD/HD Symptoms in Your Child

September is National AD/HD Awareness Month. It's estimated that 8% of children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), and it's not a coincidence that AD/HD Awareness Month coincides with the start of the school year. All parents want their children to start the new school year fresh and focused, and few parents want their children to struggle in school — or to be a disruptive source for an entire classroom.

If you think your child may have AD/HD, early diagnosis is critical to getting him the treatment he needs to succeed in the classroom and beyond. But what, exactly, is AD/HD?

A child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder exhibits a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Inattention

  • Distractibility

  • Impulsivity

  • Hyperactivity

You might read this and think, what child isn't distractible, hyper, and impulsive? A child with AD/HD will exhibit these traits at a level that exceeds that of most children. Not everyone's AD/HD looks the same — your child may be hyperactive and impulsive but not inattentive, or vice versa. Your child may exhibit one of the symptoms of AD/HD or all of them.

Here are some examples of how the symptoms of AD/HD may manifest in your child:

  • In an environment with a lot of stimuli (a classroom or busy restaurant), he may become irritable, irrational, or unusually silly.

  • In an environment with a little stimuli (a doctor's waiting room), he may become extremely disengaged and quiet.

  • When she is doing a highly stimulating activity (a favorite video game), she may enter a state of "super-attentiveness" and not notice anything else that's happening around her.

  • She may avoid activities that require short-term memory skills (such as card games), or forget homework assignments or anything that requires remembering a sequence.

  • His temper tantrums may be worse than those of most children, and even small changes in routine (a new food for dinner or earlier wake-up time) could provoke a tantrum.

  • He may frequently run late or have other poor time-management skills.

  • She may be unable to sleep through the night, or be unusually sensitive to light, sounds, or touch.

If you think your child has AD/HD, it's critical that you speak to her doctor to begin an appropriate management plan (which may include medication). You can also ease your child's burden by creating an organized home environment. Designate places for your child's homework, shoes, bathroom supplies, games, and so on, so she knows where everything is and where everything goes. Here are a few other tips:

  • Establish a firm bedtime and waking time, even on weekends. Stick to them with very few exceptions for special occasions.

  • Minimize processed foods in favor of fresh foods. Eliminate soda, sugary drinks, and all sources of caffeine.

  • Make physical exercise a priority. If your child isn't interested in playing a team sport, take a daily walk to the neighborhood playground or a daily bike ride together. Do anything that's fun and burns the extra energy.

Although AD/HD is considered a childhood disorder, about 4% of adults are affected by it as well. Adults with AD/HD usually achieve less education and income than others, and they are more likely to have a rocky employment history or abuse alcohol or drugs. About 20% of adults with AD/HD also suffer from clinical depression or bipolar disorder.

If you’re interested in more information on this topic, check out AD/HD For Dummies.

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