The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. A study by the National Survey of Children’s Health reported one in 11 school-aged children had a diagnosis of ADHD.
However, Courtney Sauls, D.O., a pediatrician with Ascension St. John Health System in Tulsa, says this doesn’t necessarily mean that ADHD is increasing – but rather that the health community has become better at diagnosing and treating children at an early age.
“ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects higher executive functioning, like memory, organization, attention, impulsivity and decision making,” says Sauls. “Children are typically diagnosed as early as five or six years of age, but can be diagnosed at age four and up by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.”
School-aged children, she says, are commonly diagnosed following a comprehensive evaluation with their pediatrician, parents and/or their school through a screening known as the Vanderbilt Assessment Scales.
“ADHD is characterized by three subsets: inattentive, hyperactive or a combination of the two,” says Sauls. “Children must meet a criteria of at least six characteristics of at least one of the subtypes, and it must affect them across multiple environments, like school and home life.”
When navigating an ADHD diagnosis, she says it’s important to know that ADHD is a disorder – a real disease that deserves medical treatment when needed.
“Untreated ADHD can cause distress at home, school and in social environments, can pair with anxiety or depression and prolong into adulthood,” she says.
Research studies continue to try and determine what causes ADHD, but at this time there’s no known cause – although studies have shown genetics play an important role. Fortunately, there are many medications available now to help manage ADHD in children. While most people have heard of ‘stimulant’ medications such as Adderall or Ritalin, Sauls says there are once daily long acting variants of these medications that work well for children.
“There are also newer ‘non-stimulant’ medications available that may work well for some children,” she says. “Typically, the pairing of medication and therapy and working with the school for an IEP [individualized education program] or 504 plan is the best comprehensive approach for a child who has ADHD.”
Due to production issues and higher demand, partly from an increase in adult ADHD diagnoses, there’s been a shortage of branded and generic versions of Adderall that has put a strain on patients.
“This has posed a problem for many patients of mine, particularly older teens and college age students as they have transitioned to a short acting medication that may work better with a fluctuating schedule,” says Sauls.
She encourages parents or caregivers to discuss any concerns about ADHD with their pediatrician.
“Hyperactivity and impulsivity are common for young children and toddlers, but your doctor can help you tease out if it’s out of the ordinary,” she says. “Your pediatrician can also be a resource for connecting you to local psychiatric resources and testing, and help guide you and your child on the next steps.
Also, a great resource is CHADD.org, which is in the information website for the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.”