Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Health

Navigating ADHD


Published:

Rick Siegel, 54, has been dealing with his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for most of his life. Yet he had no idea growing up that his fidgeting and inability to focus were symptoms of a label he would be given as an adult.

"I remember not being able to sit still in school," he said. "And everything sounded like the Peanuts cartoon."

Siegel was diagnosed with ADHD last year after realizing his inability to focus and stay on task was seriously hindering his life goals.

"It suddenly all made sense," he said.

Siegel's story is similar to many who, as adults, struggle to control their symptoms of ADHD. In fact, the neurological disorder wasn't actively labeled in children when he was young. Instead, his behavior was considered something he should be able to control.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is a one of the most common childhood brain disorders. In fact, an article published in March stated that as many as 11 percent of school-aged children have received an ADHD diagnosis. That number reflects a 16 percent increase from 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade.

More than two-thirds of children who are diagnosed with ADHD receive prescription stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which are proven to dramatically improve the lives of those with ADHD but might also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.

Described as a neurological brain disorder, ADHD is characterized by symptoms of low focus, trouble paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity or over-activity.

Children are typically diagnosed after the symptoms become pronounced enough to begin causing difficulty.

While scientists are unsure what causes ADHD, it is believed that genes play a large role. Yet like many other illnesses, ADHD likely combines an assortment of other factors that lead to the disorder. Research is currently looking at environment, brain injuries, nutrition and social environmental factors.

While some believe there is a correlation between sugar and the onset of ADHD symptoms, studies have been unable to show a link. However, certain children seem to respond with increased symptoms when too much sugar is part of the child's nutritional plan.

Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. While it is normal for children to be inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive at times, children with ADHD show these symptoms more severely and more often.

ADHD symptoms usually appear in young children, ages 3 to 6, when parents or caregivers notice the child losing interest in activities or appear "unfocused."

Ryan Walters was diagnosed at age 5 after his mother, Reina, noticed odd behavior. Ryan, now 6, is the oldest of three children.

"After having other children, I can now look back and see the difference in hyperactivity levels between him and my others," she said. "And the hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder has gotten much worse as he gets older."

Diagnosis of ADHD is made primarily through the gathering of information including a child's behavior history and environment. The child's pediatrician can assess the child themselves or may refer the family to a mental health specialist.

Treatments for ADHD aim to reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Medications to treat ADHD include stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamines. These medications actually activate the brain circuits that support attention and focused behavior and reduce hyperactivity.

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