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Portrait of Dr. Tony DeBono
August 25, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions about ADHD

There are lots of misconceptions and questions about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you’re a caregiver and you sometimes wonder about ADHD, you’re not alone. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Tony DeBono has the answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD is a mental health condition related to brain development. It causes difficulties with inattention, such as being easily distracted, and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity, such as having difficulty sitting still or frequently interrupting people. It is diagnosed when these difficulties continue over time, exist in two or more settings (such as home and school) and negatively affect how a person functions. A common school example is when a child makes simple mistakes on tests even when they know the answer because they are unable to concentrate.

Though they share the same diagnosis, people with ADHD can have different symptoms.

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?
The term ADHD is now used instead of the term ADD that was used many years ago. The term ADHD includes the three different ways the disorder can show up in a person. Though they share the same diagnosis, people with ADHD can have different symptoms. At the time of diagnosis, some have more difficulty with inattention and others have more difficulty with hyperactivity/impulsivity. Some people with ADHD have challenges with both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

What causes ADHD? Is it genetic or is it caused by different elements of a child’s surroundings?
ADHD is related to brain development, which is affected by the interaction between genetics and the environment. Although the specific causes of ADHD are not clear, both genetics and the environment likely play important roles. ADHD tends to run in families, so people with a first-degree relative that has ADHD are more likely to have it. If ADHD runs in your family, you should be aware that there is a possibility that your child will have it; however, this is not necessarily the case. It is important to remember that ADHD isn’t anyone’s fault and caregivers shouldn’t feel responsible if their child is diagnosed with ADHD.

Is ADHD real? Does everyone kind of have ADHD?
Some people say that ADHD is fake and that it is just a way to make excuses for children who are “lazy” or “bad.” This is not true. People with ADHD are not bad or lazy; they have a mental health condition.

At times it may seem like everyone is being diagnosed with ADHD, but in fact, it’s uncommon in the general population. ADHD occurs in about five per cent of school-aged youth, and boys are twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed.

It’s important to know that you are not alone!

At what age are kids usually diagnosed?
Around preschool age, ADHD symptoms start to become clearer. It is most often picked up on by the elementary school years, as demands on attention and sitting still increase. That’s because to properly diagnose a child, it’s important to see how their behaviour compares to what is typical or appropriate for kids their age. That being said, it’s important to trust your instincts as a caregiver and to talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner if you have concerns.

What should I do if I think my child has ADHD?
If you are worried about your child, speak with your family doctor, nurse practitioner or paediatrician about your concerns. They can do an assessment or, if needed, make a referral to another health care professional.

What are some questions parents and children should ask before deciding whether to take medication?
Research has shown that medication can be very helpful in treating ADHD symptoms but it’s not necessarily the answer for everyone. Ask your health care provider how the medication will work in your child’s body, how quickly should it work, whether there are any expected side effects associated with the medication, what the expected benefits are, and what kind of alternatives are available.

If you and your child decide medication is the right choice, you should ask your doctor or nurse practitioner what signs to look for as your child starts the medication so you can tell if it’s causing any side-effects and if it’s helping.

Do exercise, sleep, and diet make a difference for people with ADHD?
It still isn’t clear whether treatments involving sleep, diet, or exercise have significant effects on ADHD symptoms. Research on ADHD treatments that don’t involve medication is underway, but many of these findings require further studies to clarify their effectiveness. It is important to note that these three things are important to general wellness. If have questions about how these things affect ADHD, your health care provider may be able to help you look at the latest research on different treatment options.

It is important to know that symptoms of ADHD can change over the course of someone’s life.

Will my child grow out of it?
About 50 per cent of people with ADHD will continue to have the diagnosis into adulthood, but it is important to know that symptoms of ADHD can change over the course of someone’s life. For example, during childhood, symptoms of hyperactivity may be more common during play. As children get older, they may have more challenges with inattention during school years. As they reach their teenage years and beyond, their restlessness may become less visible on the outside but continue to bother them on the inside. They may also be impulsive and act before thinking.

What are challenges of having ADHD?
ADHD can affect many parts of a person’s life. It can make it hard to do well in school, and to make and keep friends. People with ADHD also may be more likely to have other mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or behavioural issues. That’s why it is important for people with ADHD to know how it affects their life and to get help when they need it.

It’s important to be aware of and treat ADHD, because not treating it has been shown to increase a person’s risk of: accidental injury, involvement with the law, difficulties making and keeping relationships, and poor performance in school.

Is ADHD related to any other mental health conditions?
ADHD is its own separate disorder but sometimes people with ADHD also have other conditions like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Oppositional-Defiant Disorder. Although each condition has its own symptoms, sometimes they can share difficulties. For example, a child may be more likely to have angry outbursts in school or can have certain worries.

Many of the strategies parents use to manage ADHD can also be helpful to manage conditions such as Oppositional-Defiant Disorder and concerns around behaviour. It’s important to talk to your health care provider about how these different disorders affect your child individually and how they overlap.

Is it common to have ADHD and learning difficulties? Are they the same thing?
A child with ADHD can have significant difficulties at school. Sometimes these difficulties are related to their ADHD symptoms and sometimes they’re because of a learning disability. About one in four children with ADHD also has a learning disability. This makes it important for youth with ADHD who are struggling in school to have a psycho-educational assessment, which is testing done by a psychologist or psychological associate to better understand their learning challenges and strengths.

There are many supports and treatments available for people with ADHD and their families that can help you work through those feelings.

What can I do at home to make things easier for my child with ADHD?
It’s important to know that you are not alone! Parents often feel shame and guilt when they are told that their child has ADHD. This shouldn’t be the case because ADHD isn’t anyone’s fault and people who have it can lead full and meaningful lives. There are many supports and treatments available for people with ADHD and their families that can help you work through those feelings.

Due to the fact that difficulties with ADHD are different from child to child, it is important that your child is seen by a qualified professional. That way, they can develop a treatment plan, specifically designed for your child’s needs. That treatment plan should include recommendations for parents as well.

What can my child’s teacher do at school to make classroom learning easier for them?
The answer to this question depends on the specific needs of your child. If parents choose to inform their child’s school of the diagnosis, then it is important for the school to have copies of assessments and to keep an open conversation with the child’s parents and teacher about how to help. For example, a child who becomes easily distracted may do better sitting closer to the teacher and having more frequent check-ins to help them get their work done.

Helpful resources