It wasn’t very long ago that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was shrouded in mystery. Unless directly affected by it through their children, most parents did not fully understand and certainly could not readily identify something like ADHD. Fortunately today parents have greater access to information through schools, community professionals and the World Wide Web. Yet even though the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 2 million children in the United States have ADHD (that’s roughly 1 child out of every classroom of 25-30 students) many parents are still unsure about how to identify symptoms, who to turn to for diagnosis, and how to work with their school once a diagnosis has been made.
It’s important to understand that ADHD is not a product of poor parenting. It does not discriminate according to gender, race, or age. It is a very real disorder and requires proper attention. If not properly diagnosed and treated, ADHD may carry serious consequences including school failure, problems with relationships, family stress and disruption, and depression. With education and understanding however, parents can learn to be an advocate for their ADHD child and help him/her achieve success in the classroom and at home.
ADHD is not easy to diagnose. The primary characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While many young children can exhibit these characteristics to some degree, true ADHD symptoms are significant and present themselves over the course of several months. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) there are three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD – being consistently inattentive, being hyperactive, and/or being impulsive far more than others of the same age. Children with ADHD may show one or a combination of these behavior patterns. It isn’t unusual for a child (or even an adult for that matter) to have difficulty sitting still, paying attention or controlling impulsive behavior from time to time. However, with ADHD these issues are constant and so pervasive that they impact every aspect of their lives, including both the home and school environment.
Who Can Diagnose?
If you suspect ADHD may be affecting your child, it’s important to know which individuals can make a proper diagnosis. Specific training in the diagnosis of mental disorders, and specifically ADHD is obviously ideal. These individuals most often include child psychiatrists and psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, or behavioral neurologists, and sometimes clinical social workers.
Specialty Can diagnose ADHD Can prescribe medication, if needed Provides counseling or training
Psychiatrists Yes Yes Yes
Psychologists Yes Yes (only in NM & LA) Yes
Pediatricians or Family Physicians Yes Yes No
Neurologists Yes Yes No
Clinical Social Workers Yes No Yes
(Retrieved from ldonline.org/adhdbasics/diagnosis 3/14/2007)
If you’re unsure about who to contact first, you can always start with your family pediatrician or physician. He or she may or may not be able to do a preliminary assessment; however, they can absolutely make a referral to the appropriate mental health specialist for further exploration and diagnosis.
The first step is to collect information and rule out other contributing factors that may affect your child’s behavior. Significant experiences such as a sudden change in the child’s life (i.e. the death of a loved one, parents’ divorce, etc.), a learning disability that may cause underachievement, anxiety or depression, even medical causes such as a middle ear infection that may result in intermittent hearing loss, can cause ADHD-like behaviors in a child. Specialists may also look to the child’s school and medical records, environmental stressors and parental and/or teacher interaction with the child as other contributing factors to the child’s erratic behavior.
If after all of the information has been collected and analyzed against the current DSM-IV-TR and the hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are deemed significant, and found to be long-standing, an ADHD diagnosis may be made.
As a parent, you are your child’s most important advocate. It’s critical to know what’s expected of your school, and how to utilize the resources available to you in your community. Honest and open communication with your child’s teachers is critical to his/her success in the classroom – especially if you suspect that your child may have ADHD. Your child’s school is legally obligated to evaluate your child at your request. The request should be made in writing, and should include background information including the child’s name, your name, the date, and the reason you are requesting the evaluation. If the school refuses to evaluate your child, there are advocacy groups in every state including the Parent Training and Information (PTI) center and the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency.
Source by Cari Diaz