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What to look for with attention deficit disorders

Jun. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Not everyone with a short attention span that's easily distracted has an attention deficit disorder. Attention deficit disorder is not a learning disability, but learning may be more challenging with an attention deficit disorder. It's more than an emotional problem or a disciplinary problem. It's not caused by parents who don't discipline their children.

There are three basic characteristics of an attention deficit disorder: inattention or inability to pay attention, hyperactivity or overly active and impulsivity or prone to impulsive behaviors.

It's normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive -- it goes with the territory of being a kid.

Attention deficit disorders vary among children so all will not have exactly the same symptoms. Symptoms of inattention include missing details, forgetting things, losing things and often changing from one activity to another. Inattentive children have difficulty focusing on one thing because they can become bored after a few minutes unless they are doing something they really enjoy. Inattention can also manifest in poor organizing skills, not completing tasks, not listening, daydreaming, being unable to process information as quickly as others and struggling to follow instructions. Children with an inattentive type of attention deficit disorder may be overlooked in the classroom because they are not disruptive. They may seem to be working but they are distracted, daydreaming or not paying attention to what they are doing.

Signs of hyperactivity in a child include being fidgety or squirmy and always having trouble sitting still or being still. Some children talk constantly when they are hyperactive. They might dash around the room touching and playing with everything all at the same time. They are constantly in motion and cannot or will not engage in quiet activities.

Signs of impulsivity can include interrupting conversations or activities, being impatient, blurting out inappropriate comments, showing raw emotions and acting without considering consequences, or have difficulty waiting for their turn or waiting in general.

A health care professional can identify the presence of ADD, and determine if the attention problem is caused by another underlying medical problem, like a hearing problem or other medical problems. A behavioral health care professional can determine if the attention problem is caused by a traumatic event (loss of a close family member, divorce, or a parent's job loss for example). The professional will determine if the attention problems are excessive given the child's age, if they are long-term, and if they are affecting all aspects of a child's life or whether there is excessive stress in the home environment that is affecting the child. Recognizing attention deficit disorder symptoms and getting help as early as possible will lead to a better outcome for both the child and their family.

The treatment for attention deficit disorders includes medications, therapy and education and most likely a combination of these. The most common type of medication given for attention deficit disorder is a stimulant or amphetamine-like medication. This may seem counter-intuitive to give a hyperactive child something that would rev them up. Stimulants often have the opposite effect on children -- they may act to slow them down and help them concentrate and focus. Some more recently developed medications are not stimulants and they act differently than stimulants. Medications can help children reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and help children improve their ability to learn and focus. Not all medications work for all children. More than one medication or combinations of medications may be prescribed to see which ones will work best. Medications cannot cure attention deficit disorders; they can only help control some of the symptoms.

Medication is just part of the treatment for attention deficit disorders. Adding therapy or counseling can improve symptoms more than medications alone. Counseling focuses on learning and practicing coping skills that change attention deficit behaviors. Counseling can help decrease impulsive behaviors by practicing sharing and positive social skills and improving focus on specific tasks like homework. Parents learn how to better help their child with attention deficit symptoms. Strategies parents and families can implement include keeping a daily schedule and the same routine every day, organizing the child's toys and other items, using organizers to stay on top of school assignments, being clear and consistent when giving instructions and praising and rewarding positive behaviors.

Attention deficit disorders are considered to be disorders of childhood, but they may continue into adult years. Attention deficit disorders in adults respond very well to treatment. Antidepressant medications that are not habit forming (i.e., not stimulant medications) are commonly prescribed for adults. For additional information on attention deficit disorders, visit www.nimh.nih.gov.

When a problem with mental health or addiction interferes with functioning at work, school or at home, an evaluation with a professional is helpful. People feel better with the right kind of care.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475).

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.