Let's face it, children can be rambunctious. Many a parent has been driven to distraction by a child that seems to spend her Saturday afternoon, quite literally, bouncing off the walls. But what do you do when your child's hyperactivity seems to be outside the bounds of normal behavior? What do you do if your child seems to be coping with something she cannot control? What if her behavior is not only negatively affecting her life, but your family's as well? Could your child have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

The term "ADHD" encompasses three specific types of behaviors as defined by psychiatrists:

  • Predominantly Inattentive: This behavioral type includes daydreaming, forgetfulness, failure to follow instructions, disorganization, and difficulty paying attention
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive: This category of behavior involves difficulty staying on task, constant physical motion and activity, fidgeting, difficulty taking turns, and frequently interrupting others.
  • Combined Type: This category includes symptoms of both of the above types of ADHD 

What distinguishes ADHD from normal childhood boisterousness is the severity and durationof the above types of behaviors when no other cause is apparent. Physicians and mental health professionals look at how many of the above symptoms exist, how long they have been present, how they affect daily life and whether they occur in several different settings, such as school, home or social situations. 

While no one is sure what causes ADHD, it appears to have a genetic component. ADHD generally appears in children by about age seven. Many people go without a diagnosis until later in childhood, or even adulthood. However, if symptoms appear only in adolescence or later, it is usually not indicative of ADHD. 

In recent years some physicians and mental health professionals have taken a different approach to diagnosing ADHD. They look at attention as a complex set of brain functions, not simply behaviors, and stress the importance of determining what else besides ADHD might be causing a particular kind of problem. This is important because treating ADHD will not help other causes of attention or behavior problems. 

Treatment for ADHD can include behavior therapy, counseling and medication. Many children improve with use of medication and, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for most children this option can be both safe and effective. As with all medications, there can be side effects and all children taking medication should be monitored by a physician experienced with ADHD. 

Coping with a diagnosis of ADHD isn't easy, but with the right professional and emotional support both your child, and you, can come through it with the comfort and security that comes with knowledge and awareness.