ADD Help for Kids
by Kate Wharmby Seldman
Perhaps your child already has a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, or maybe you're just beginning to worry about his distractible and hyperactive tendencies. In either case, help is available. Medication combined with therapy and behavior modification can "rewire" the ADHD kid's brain, teaching him coping mechanisms, allowing him to focus and restore his self-esteem.
What is ADD?
ADD stands for attention deficit disorder. It can also be known as ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It can manifest itself in children or adults. Usually, it begins in childhood and can continue into adulthood. Often it appears before the age of 7, but sometimes it can be seen in younger children, and sometimes even babies. It's characterized by two main symptoms: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. Often, kids tend to exhibit more of one main symptom than the other, but most children will still show both components of the disorder.
ADD can affect a child's behavior in several ways. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms break down into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The inattentive child may struggle to complete homework, lose things easily, appear distracted, jump from one activity to another or get bored quickly. The hyperactive child is often constantly in motion, and it's hard to get him to sit still for meals, naps or school. He might talk incessantly, fidget and have trouble doing quiet activities. The impulsive child frequently interrupts others during conversations, has trouble waiting his turn in conversations and activities, loses patience easily, blurts out his thoughts even when they're not appropriate and doesn't think of the consequences before he acts. A child with ADHD may have low self-esteem. His behavior is likely to affect his family, potentially causing anger, frustration and arguments, and making the child feel as if he is "bad" or a "troublemaker."
Doctor-prescribed medication often helps to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. This medication is usually a stimulant. Adderall, Focalin and Ritalin are examples of stimulants used to treat ADHD. Stimulants tend to have a calming effect on kids with ADHD, allowing them to concentrate, and sometimes even improving their physical coordination. They may have side effects, however, so it's important to monitor your child carefully and have your doctor adjust dosage or switch medications if necessary. Common side effects of stimulants can include a loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiety and irritability, as well as rarer, more serious issues such as heart problems and high blood pressure.
There are also non-stimulant medications that treat ADHD, such as Strattera, a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that works on the brain somewhat like an antidepressant. These medications can be taken alone or combined with a stimulant med to treat ADHD.
Behavioral therapy is effective for children with ADHD. A psychologist or psychiatrist works with the child to break patterns of behavior and establish new ones. These patterns can involve everyday issues like sitting still in class, doing homework on time or keeping track of possessions. The child might also learn how to watch him or herself closely, so that he can be aware of negative behavioral patterns and hopefully eventually nip them in the bud. Some ADHD sufferers need help learning to identify social cues and body language, which can help them get along with others. An ADHD child's family might also benefit from therapy, which can teach them to let go of frustration and blame associated with the effect the disorder has had on all of them.
From 1998 to 2005, calls to poison-control centers about possible ADHD-drug abuse have risen 75 percent, according to research from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Older children may use their ADHD drugs to get high, give them to other kids for the same purpose, or, if they don't have a prescription themselves, they may get them from other kids. Crushing the pills up and snorting them can provide users with a feeling of euphoria. Abuse of these medications can be very dangerous, potentially causing agitation, high blood pressure and rapid heatbeat. FDA researchers have also discovered that use of ADHD stimulant drugs can increase the risk of sudden death, not only in kids with preexisting heart conditions, but also in previously healthy children. It's imperative that you talk to your pediatrician before your child takes any ADHD remedy.