Children & ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that can make it difficult for a child to sit still, pay attention, and control his or her behavior. Symptoms of ADHD appear in early childhood (i.e., before the age of 7); however, in some cases, the disorder is not recognized until adolescence or adulthood.

ADHD is a chronic (long-lasting) neurobehavioral disorder, which means it is related to how the central nervous system (e.g., brain, spinal cord) affects behavior, learning, and emotions. Children with ADHD have differences in brain structure that result in impulsive behavior (impulsivity), an inability to focus, and abnormally high levels of activity (hyperactivity). Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) refers to the condition without hyperactivity.

Children who have ADHD often get into trouble at school. They may try to avoid situations that require concentration, quick decision-making, or the ability to accept responsibility for their actions.

Approximately 20–30 percent of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder also have a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia (difficulty processing language), dyscalculia (difficulty with math skills), or dysgraphia (difficulty with written expression). Recent studies show that children and teenagers who have ADHD are at increased risk for substance abuse (addiction to alcohol and/or drugs).

Incidence and Prevalence of ADHD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD affects approximately 3–5 percent of children. It is estimated that about 2 million children in the United States have the disorder. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder occurs worldwide and variations in statistics concerning the condition are due in part to differences in cultural perceptions and expectations.

ADHD is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls. However, the reason for this may be that the condition often presents differently in boys and girls. For example, boys with ADHD are more likely to display disruptive behavior that gains attention and is recognized easier, and girls with the disorder may simply appear passive or unmotivated. Boys who have ADHD often are labeled as "discipline problems."

ADHD occurs more often in children who have a family history of the disorder. Studies have shown that about 25 percent of children who have ADHD also have a close relative (e.g., parent, sibling) with ADHD.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015