Tell that to Michael Phelps, the 16-time Olympic medalist who shows razor-sharp focus in the pool. Phelps, arguably the most famous celebrity with ADHD, was diagnosed with ADHD at age nine.
The truth is children with ADHD are often able to concentrate on activities they enjoy. But no matter how hard they try, they have trouble maintaining focus when the task at hand is boring or repetitive or when the environment becomes overstimulating to their brains.
ADHD is a real problem, and boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, though it's not yet clear why. Having ADHD goes beyond the typical energetic or excitable behaviors of normal childhood. To be receive and official ADHD diagnosis, ADD/ADHD symptoms have to be present for at least six months, occur in different settings, such as home and school, and impair a child's ability to function socially, academically and at home.
Because hyperactive behavior often disappears during adolescence, experts used to think that children outgrew ADHD. But by some estimations, roughly two-thirds of all children with ADHD will carry it into adulthood. It's estimated that 4.1% of adults 18 - 44 years old are affected by ADHD. Adult ADHD can present different symptoms and challenges, impacting a person's job, family and social relationships. So don't wait for your child to outgrow the problem. Treatment can help people at any age learn strategies to minimize ADHD symptoms.
Medications can be highly effective in managing ADHD symptoms, but they should be used in conjunction with other treatments including behavior therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach your child strategies such as organization skills that help him manage or overcome his symptoms. With effective therapy, people with mild to moderate ADD/ADHD may be able to get off their medications completely.
Not all children with ADHD are hyperactive. Girls with ADHD are often inattentive but not hyperactive or impulsive. In fact, older girls with ADHD tend to show symptoms of anxiety and depression and often have social problems due to withdrawal and internalized emotions.
If you have concerns about your child's behavior or learning abilities, speak with her teacher and pediatrician who can help to formerly evaluate your daughter and provide assistance.
Katherine Solem is a health writer and editor living in San Francisco.
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