What is the 'deficit' in Attention Deficit Disorder?
The word 'deficit' means the child is not able to pay attention and is easily distracted.
What are the causes of Attention Deficit Disorder?
It is caused by difficulties in the parts of the brain responsible for attention, maybe from an imbalance of natural chemical substances called neurotransmitters. There may be a genetic link since it is seven times more common in males and may affect more than one family member. Also, brain injury before or during birth, or a childhood head injury may cause Attention Deficit Disorder.
Is there a test for Attention Deficit Disorder?
At present, there are no blood tests or other methods of testing for the condition.
How is Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosed?
The diagnosis is based on observations by parents, teachers and others who work with the child. The doctor uses these observations, often aided by questionnaires, to detect the main features of an Attention Deficit Disorder. At the same time, testing is done for other conditions which may cause symptoms similar to Attention Deficit Disorder.
What are the main features of Attention Deficit Disorder?
The number and severity of these features will vary with each child.
What other conditions will the doctor look for?
Emotional and Social Problems
How is Attention Deficit Disorder treated?
Successful treatment always involves changes at home, school and in the community. Medications, when necessary, are safe and effective but should not be used alone.
What changes should be made at home, school and in the community?
Everyone involved with the child should learn about Attention Deficit Disorder and avoid labeling the child as lazy, bad or stupid.
What about medication?
Medication should be considered when other methods have not made a big improvement in the child’s attention problems. Most doctors will begin treatment with a stimulant drug, Ritalin. This medication is thought to increase the production of the deficient brain chemicals. Medication helps about 75 per cent of children with the disorder. They should not be used until the possible side effects and the need for medical follow-up have been discussed.
In general, children under age five should not be given medication; and the length of time necessary for this treatment varies for each child.
What are the common side effects of medications?
About 40 per cent of children will have a decreased appetite and difficulty falling asleep. Other side-effects can occur but are rare. Heart rate and blood pressure can be slightly increased and they need to be monitored by the doctor. Stimulant medications are not psychologically addicting in children.
What should the child be told about medication?
The child should be reassured that the pill alone has not caused the improvement in behaviour. This will encourage self-reliance and reduce the chance of becoming psychologically dependent on the medication.
Is psychological counseling necessary?
Many children with Attention Deficit Disorder will have low self-esteem as a result of doing poorly in school and other settings. These children can be helped with counseling available through hospital or community-based services.
Do children outgrow Attention Deficit Disorder?
Recent studies show that up to 30 per cent of adolescents and adults continue to have some features of Attention Deficit Disorder. There is a need for careful follow-up of the child’s medical treatment, behaviour and education.
What other information is available?
Most public libraries have information about the disorder. School personnel will often have further resources. Groups such as the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta can provide information about local resources such as parent-information groups and social-skills training groups.