Does your child have problems staying focused or paying attention? Do they fidget and have trouble listening or concentrating on a given task? If so, your child may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neurobehavioral condition which affects 8 to 10% of school children, with boys 3 times more likely to be affected than girls. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ADHA is not limited to childhood; it can persist throughout a person’s lifetime. It is therefore paramount to understand the causes of ADHD, and what can be done to prevent and manage it.
What Causes ADHD?
ADHD is a relatively new condition, having first been clinically described in 1902, and scientists are still unsure of the exact causes. That said, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) lists several causal factors for ADHD, including genetics and environmental factors. Pesticides, for example, have been linked to the condition. A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who have high urine levels of organophosphate (the most commonly used pesticide) are at higher risk of developing ADHD. Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy can also increase the risk. Research shows that fetuses exposed to tobacco smoke and alcohol prenatally are 2.4 times more likely to develop ADHD.
Other risk factors for ADHD include:
- Exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals during pregnancy
- Exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals, such as high levels of lead, at a young age
- Low birth weight
- Brain injuries
How to Spot ADHD
Trouble paying attention, being easily distracted, and hyperactivity are the most recognizable ADHD behaviors. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Not listening when talked to
- Daydreaming or becoming easily confused
- Overwhelming sense of stress
- Problems organizing tasks
- Talking non-stop
- Blurting out inappropriate comments or words
- Constant or extreme fidgeting, getting up often and squirming around
How to Treat ADHD
While there is no known medical cure for ADHD, several treatment options are available, and it is possible to manage the condition.
Research confirms that behavior therapy is the most useful treatment for children who have ADHD, because the condition affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention, but it also their relationships with their family and other children. This type of treatment involves social skills training, behavioral interventions, and family therapy. Counselling can also help your child feel better about themselves and their condition, therefore helping to manage it more effectively.
In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage the symptoms and help to control some of the behavior problems. The most common medications prescribed for ADHD are stimulants (amphetamines) like Adderall and Dexedrine. Non-stimulant medications such as Atomoxetine are also available. Speak to your health practitioner to find out whether medication is right for your child.
Parent Education and Support
Educational programs for children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder provide information, resources, and advice to parents on how to help their child, for example how to:
- Manage distractions
- Create a routine
- Communicate effectively
- Help children to plan
- Use goals and praise as rewards
- Provide a healthy lifestyle
While the triggers may be different for each child, some parents have found that cutting out certain foods from their child’s diet has helped to manage AHDH symptoms. These foods include:
- Artificial food additives
Because ADHD is linked to exposure to environmental toxins, a diet that excludes processed foods and focuses on fresh organic produce may be beneficial to help manage the symptoms.
Can You Prevent ADHD?
There is no known, proven way to prevent ADHD, but avoiding alcohol, tobacco and environmental toxins, and eating a healthy organic diet during pregnancy can lower the risk.
When Should You Call a Doctor?
If you are concerned that your child is displaying ADHD symptoms and this is causing problems at home or at school, you may want to speak to a doctor. Equally, if your child seems overly anxious or depressed for more than a few weeks, and is unwilling to communicate with you, this may be a sign there is something going on. A health professional will be able to diagnose ADHD and help you find the right treatment for your child.
Becoming aware about ADHD is the first step to better understanding it and being empowered to fight against it. The most important thing is to speak with your child and understand their behaviors so that you can support them. With therapy, a solid routine, a healthy diet, and appropriate treatment, your child can have a happy, fulfilled childhood.