ADHD symptoms and solutions
May 26, 2022
ADHD symptoms and solutions

    If your child has trouble sitting still and focusing, they’re in good company. An estimated 8-11% of kids under age 18 have received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – and even more experience the symptoms without a formal diagnosis.

    How can you determine if your child has ADHD and provide the help they need? Pediatrician Dr. Bergen Nelson explains, starting with knowing the signs.

    Signs and symptoms of ADHD

    As the name suggests, symptoms of ADHD are presented in two groups.

    Symptoms of inattention:

    • Easily distractible
    • Absent-mindedness
    • Trouble focusing
    • Short attention span

    Symptoms of hyperactivity:

    • Moving around a lot
    • Constantly fidgeting
    • Trouble controlling impulses to talk or move

    Kids can be diagnosed with predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive type or combined-type ADHD. Boys are diagnosed more often than girls.

    How is ADHD diagnosed?

    ADHD is a clinical diagnosis based on presence of symptoms and how a child is functioning, rather than a biologic diagnosis. This means there’s no lab test or imaging study for ADHD.

    How your child functions in everyday environments is key. We usually ask parents and teachers to report on the symptoms they’re observing. The symptoms must be present in at least two different environments (school, home, extracurricular activities, etc.) and impair functioning in some way, such as getting in the way of learning or making good grades, or affecting relationships with family or friends.

    The Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Rating Scale is commonly used to help assess kids’ behaviors in a variety of areas. It’s free, publicly available – including on our website at – and designed for kids 6-12 years old. For younger kids, a scale called the PSC-17 (Pediatric Symptom Checklist) is often used. Still other tools, such as the ADHD Rating Scale and the Conner’s Scale, are more applicable for adolescents. These questionnaires, in combination with a history and physical exam, are used to make the diagnosis. It’s also important to make sure the symptoms aren’t caused by something else, like anxiety, depression or a specific learning disability.

    ADHD can be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist, or by a general pediatrician or family physician in the primary care setting.

    Is medicine always needed to treat ADHD?

    No! Medications can be effective, but they’re not always necessary. Especially for younger kids (preschool age), behavior management and tailored parenting strategies are typically recommended before even considering medicine.

    With or without medication, all children can benefit from behavioral techniques to minimize the troublesome symptoms of ADHD.

    • Develop structure and routines in the home and school environments
    • Provide spaces to work that reduce distractions
    • Give clear instructions and expectations for tasks
    • Limit screen time
    • Make sure kids get good sleep
    • Maintain a healthy diet
    • Offer opportunities for plenty of exercise 

    How can parents help children with ADHD?

    It’s helpful to remember ADHD isn’t a sign that a kid is simply misbehaving, or that you’ve done something wrong as a parent. It’s just a difference in the way the brain is wired. In addition to providing structure and routines, you can best help by staying positive and solution oriented.

    While ADHD can be hard at school and other places where kids are expected to stay still and quiet, people with ADHD often thrive in environments that allow them to move and talk. They also tend to excel in creativity, energy and social connection. Providing activities and opportunities in these realms can be good for everyone involved!

    ADHD is common and treatable. If you’re concerned your child is struggling with ADHD, talk with their doctor and teacher to discuss the symptoms and begin the evaluation process.

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