Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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Understanding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

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‘I always worry when I go to pick John up from school. It seems every day some problem has arisen. I feel people think I’m just a bad parent.’ ‘To try and get Manjeet to do her homework and hand it in, in a presentable form, can take all night. We often get comments from the school on how messy her work is, but she does try so hard.’ ‘Ben is so unpredictable; one minute he will be in a good mood, and the next he will be shouting at his sister. When we have other children around, he will act very silly, and then boss them about.’ ‘I don't care what you call the problem, my child needs help.’

These children can have severe behavioural problems with difficulties paying attention and controlling activity levels, and they may or may not have learning difficulties. This booklet describes the behaviour and gives an overview of the various theories about ADHD. It suggests what can be done to help, and the practical steps that parents, teachers and other carers can take.

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What is ADHD? Many parents worry about how their child is behaving, from time to time, but untamed behaviour is a normal part of growing up. The difference between this and ADHD is how extreme it is. Children with ADHD usually behave in the same challenging way, wherever they are and whoever they’re with. Unless they get the special help they need, ADHD can be damaging to them, to their family, and to their future. Children can be very young when problems start. Parents often describe their children as being ‘motor driven’. They will be restless, on the go the whole time, often very clumsy and always asking for attention.

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In the first two years of school, teachers will find them untidy, disorganised and forgetful. As time goes on, they may also find that the child finds it hard to sit still or stick to one task, and that learning and writing is very challenging for them, because they are so easily distracted. Children with ADHD are highly impulsive, and may speak or act without thinking about what they are saying or doing. They are also very talkative and can find it difficult to listen, and take turns in conversation. As a result, they may come across as bossy to other children, which may make it harder for them to maintain friendships. As they grow older, their own restlessness can make them feel frustrated and dismayed, making their problems worse. Most children misbehave occasionally. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong. But if the behaviour has been going on for a long time, it could mean there is a problem, although not necessarily ADHD. If you are worried about your child, you are entitled to help, whether or not your child has ADHD.

How common is ADHD? It’s hard to judge how many children have ADHD, because different experts use different terms and definitions. This is very confusing for parents and everyone else involved. Statistics vary (in both the UK and the USA), but the latest figures seem to suggest that around five percent of school children in the UK show ADHD behaviour. It seems that more boys than girls receive this diagnosis, but the reasons why aren’t clear. It may have something to do with society’s expectations about the way we should behave. In the USA, for instance, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have argued that more Black boys are included in the category than should be.

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In the UK, a small study of hyperactivity found that Asian children, rated by their teachers as being as hyperactive as their white classmates, were actually less hyperactive in the classroom. Clearly, it’s difficult to arrive at a true picture, so ADHD should be seen as way of defining a set of behaviours that is still open to change, not as a cut-and-dried 'illness'.

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What causes ADHD? Nobody knows exactly why, and there may be a number of different factors at work. Inheritance can play a part, because a child...
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