How to Know If Your Child Should Be Evaluated For ADHD

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ADHD written on sheet of paper

Almost all children go through periods when their attention wanders or their behavior veers out of control. However, for some, these types of behaviors are more than an occasional problem. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have behavior problems that are so frequent and severe that they interfere with their ability to function normally on a daily basis.

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, this issue comes up a lot in our practice. Parents want to know whether or not their child has ADHD, what it means, and what to do about it. When a child is not doing well in school, finds it hard to sit still, is constantly restless and/or seems to have trouble concentrating, it’s understandable that parents become concerned. Rest assured, no matter the diagnosis, we’re here with you every step of the way.

At what age should you have your child evaluated for ADHD

Researchers say that 3-10% of all children in the U.S. have ADHD. Most often, the condition is recognized when a child starts school but for many, the signs and symptoms can appear at a younger age.

Most experts agree that it’s hard to be sure whether a child has ADHD until he/she is 6 or 7 years old. This is because many typical ADHD behaviors, such as a short him/her from learning, please don’t hesitate to ask us to have your child evaluated. While medication is rarely appropriate for children under 6, certain behavior modification techniques can help a great deal at any age.

What does an ADHD evaluation involve?

Evaluating a child for ADHD is not an exact science. Many children of all ages have trouble paying attention, but that doesn’t mean they have a disorder. Depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities can all be mistaken for ADHD.

In some cases, a child may actually be suffering from both ADHD and depression, or ADHD and a learning disability (such as a speech and language delay). In addition, approximately a third of all children with ADHD have some kind of coexisting problem. A child who has learning issues in math, reading, etc. will act very similar to a child with ADHD. If a child can’t read or do math, they will quite often give up and tune the teacher out, and become fidgety and distracted.

If we feel your child might have ADHD, we will do a Vanderbilt screening (a psychological assessment tool for ADHD) to determine if this is in fact the case and if he/she should see a specialist. If so, we can refer your child to a psychologist or neurologist who can recommend medication.

No matter the course of treatment or therapy, we as your child’s pediatrician will guide you through the entire process, including regular follow-up visits to see how your child is doing. Always, our #1 goal at Westchester Health Pediatrics is to do whatever we can to help your child have a happy, healthy life.

An evaluation for ADHD usually includes:

  • A thorough personal, family, and medical history. ADHD tends to run in families and it’s common for a brother or sister to have the disorder, or for parents to have symptoms even though they’ve never been diagnosed. For this reason, we will ask you a lot of questions about your child’s and your family’s health history, how long your child has been having ADHD symptoms (should be longer than 6 months) and whether he/she is having them in more than one setting, such as at school and home.
  • Interview with the patient. Often, kids will speak more freely when their parents are not in the room. To accurately determine the presence (or absence) of ADHD, we may ask your child age-appropriate questions without you present, such as, “What’s your favorite subject in school? Your least favorite? Why?”
  • Interview with the parents. We will also want to give you ample time (without your child present) to talk about your questions, concerns and frustrations with your child, such as short attention span, failure to follow through on homework or chores, non-stop activity or frequently losing his/her temper. Also, we might ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your child’s abilities and symptoms.
  • Interview with your child’s teacher(s). If your child is in school, we may want to speak with his/her teacher. Does your child have trouble waiting his/her turn, seems overly fidgety or restless, is easily distracted, or has a hard time following directions?
  • Physical examination. We will give your child a thorough physical exam, if his/her current one is out of date, to rule out any health issues that could be causing ADHD-like symptoms, such as vision or hearing problems.
  • Treatment options and follow-up. In addition to medication (if warranted), treatment options may include behavior therapy (changing your child’s environment to help improve behavior), working with you, the parents, to give you skills to deal with your child’s behavior, changes in the school environment, and a number of other alternative treatments. We will also want to see you and your child for follow-up visits to check on his/her progress.

The good news

The vast majority of children diagnosed with ADHD are successfully treated, learn to manage their condition and do very well in social and academic situations for the rest of their lives.

To learn more about ADHD

To read American Academy of Pediatrics articles on causes of ADHD, common symptoms of hyperactivity, behavioral side effects of medication, and more, click here.

Come see us, we’re here to help

If you think your child might have ADHD, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will meet with you, diagnose whether or not your child does indeed have ADHD, and together, we will formulate a plan to help your child, and you, in the best manner possible.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball