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Posted: March 14, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Here's to your health: ADHD in children, adults

Attention Deficit Disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that has been known about in children for many years, but only in recent history has ADHD has been more widely recognized and diagnosed in adults. Although controversial at times due to the rapid rise in the number of people being treated for it, ADHD is a real neurobehavioral condition that makes it hard for people to sit still or concentrate on important tasks. It affects 3 percent to 5 percent of children, 30 percent to 70 percent of whom will continue to have symptoms as adults.

ADHD manifests itself in a variety of ways. Children may be full of energy and have a hard time staying in their seats and paying attention at school. Adults may be impulsive, irritable and uninterested in work, especially if the work is repetitive and monotonous. Boys may refuse to sit still and be very distractible whereas girls may have difficulty not talking, or daydream and stare aimlessly out the window. Children may squirm and fidget. Teens and adults may feel restless and not able to enjoy reading or other quiet activities. Obviously, this can cause big problems at school, home, work and in relationships.

The causes of ADHD are not clear, but it does tend to run in families. It takes a physician or a psychologist to correctly diagnose ADHD and distinguish it from other conditions that may be causing the symptoms, such as a learning disability, depression or anxiety. In assessing ADHD, the doctor will usually need reports of the child's behavior from parents, teachers, coaches or others who have regular contact with the child. Many times testing is needed to fully assess concentration, distractibility, intellectual and academic skills.

There is no cure of ADHD, but fortunately there are good treatments for it. These treatments usually take the form of medication and behavior therapy. Parents and other adults need to closely observe children who begin taking ADHD medication because of potential side effects, such as loss of appetite, headaches or stomachaches, ticks and problems sleeping. There are different medications for ADHD and varying dosages, so it takes a skilled physician and sometimes trial-and-error to get the right medication and dosage.

Therapy tends to focus on environmental changes and lifestyle influences that may contribute to the symptoms. Often, ADHD behaviors lead to emotional and self-esteem issues in children because of difficulty with tasks that their peers may accomplish with ease.

Counseling and extra support at home and at school are often helpful to an ADHD child in succeeding in school and feeling better about themselves.

Sometimes an adult identifies their own ADHD when their child is diagnosed with it, recognizing the symptoms in themselves. Adults may find it hard to organize, focus and complete tasks. They often forget things, but can be very creative and curious. Some adults adapt to these tendencies by finding jobs that are stimulating and varied, but they can still have difficulty in relationships and tend to have higher divorce rates. They tend to have higher smoking rates and substance abuse problems than adults without ADHD. As with children, medication and counseling can help adults with ADHD.

There has been criticism that ADHD is a pseudo-diagnosis promoted by the pharmaceutical industry to boost sales. This is pretty much hogwash. Children don't usually choose to misbehave in the manner that they do. Their behavior is not a lack of will or discipline on the child's part, a result of laziness, bad parenting or intentional opposition. ADHD, despite its criticisms, is a very legitimate medical disorder, and one that can be treated if brought to the attention of a professional trained in its diagnosis and treatment.

C. Kirven Weekley, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with offices in Covington and Norcross. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of adults for depression, anxiety, relationship problems and medical issues. He can be reached at (770) 441-9244.

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