ADD/ADHD – The Disorder
The sound of a pencil hitting the floor across the room, the humming of florescent lights, a bird flying outside the window. Many of us take these sights and sounds for granted and can easily ignore them, but to a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) they are magnified and can turn into difficult-to-ignore distractions.
Every day in our country, children with these disorders face the challenges of trying to overcome “typical” exterior stimuli in order to concentrate in school environments but, in an ironic loop, their decreased ability to stay focused and pay attention adds to the difficulty ADD and ADHD children have in conquering these challenges.
It’s a familiar sight in many Canadian schools: children lined up outside of the school nurse’s office for their mid-day dose of Ritalin™, the most commonly prescribed drug for ADD/ADHD. It may take up to an hour to take effect, but the tiny tablets are an essential school tool used by thousands of children daily. In the past 10 years, the number of children diagnosed with these attention disorders has grown.
It is estimated that ADD/ADHD affect over 1.2 million Canadian children, and these disorders are more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls. Symptoms include lack of focus and concentration, irritability, impulsiveness, forgetfulness and difficulty organizing and completing tasks.
Children with these symptoms have a more difficult time staying on task at school and also tend to be more prone to suffering negative social consequences, causing their self-esteems to erode. Decades ago, these children were labeled “out of control”, “hard to handle” or just plain “bad”. Today’s research indicates that the disorder is indeed caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but the factors causing the imbalance itself are still elusive.
Just Being Kids?
While some parents and teachers think these children are “just being kids” or that they’re just in “a phase”, the reality is that children with ADD/ADHD are quite different from “high energy” children.
To be diagnosed with ADD /ADHD, a child must have a consistent pattern of behavior which were present for at least six months; the pattern of behavior occurred before age 7; and the actions and behaviors must be different than those exhibited by others of the child’s age.
Doctors use behavioral assessment tests like the Conner’s Rating Scale, along with observations from teachers, parents and health care professionals to determine the presence and/or severity of these disorders. Unfortunately, ADHD and ADD may not appear exclusively. Other conditions associated with ADD/ADHD include various types of learning disabilities, depression and mood disorders.
While drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin™) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine™) seem to have a band-aid effect on the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, they are not a cure.
The calming effects of these stimulants often wear off within hours and studies to determine the long term effects of such drugs are not completed yet. But there is a ray of hope – information and research on more natural alternative treatments are becoming more readily accessible to parents and doctors.