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The Importance of Early Detection in ADHD Treatment

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a brain condition that can have a profound effect on a child’s learning, adjustment, and functioning within the family. If a child tries his best yet has inconsistent performance in school, he feels frustrated and inadequate. The child may feel like he is disappointing his parents and teachers. Teachers may have to continuously redirect the child’s attention to a task throughout the day, leaving the child feeling that he is being “picked on.” He may start to feel different from his peers and begin to dislike school.

Early detection is important. Allowing children to struggle either academically or behaviorally creates a pattern of negative experiences, making it more difficult for them to believe in themselves. Terry Mattingly, a licensed school psychologist in private practice, reports that “adults who discover that they have ADHD often look back at their schooling and feel it could have been easier had they been diagnosed as a child. They report feeling ‘stupid’ as a child when compared to their peers, or they remember having to work much harder than others.”

ADHD has no correlation with intelligence, but left untreated, it can significantly impact performance. Best practice includes a comprehensive evaluation in which various processing areas are assessed to determine their impact on performance. Working memory and processing speed, for example, are typically areas of weakness for a child with ADHD. Assessing how a child performs on standardized cognitive tests that measure such abilities is crucial.

The use of psychotropic medication to treat ADHD is very safe, well-researched, and effective, but it should only be considered after a comprehensive evaluation shows the characteristics of ADHD across settings and demonstrates their significant impact on functioning.

A comprehensive evaluation consists of the following:

  1. An IQ test to examine the child’s abilities across different cognitive areas. The Wechsler Scales and the Differential Abilities Scales are two of the most common IQ tests.

  2. Assessment of academic achievement to determine if the suspected focusing issues are impacting skill mastery and retention. The Woodcock Johnson is commonly used. A child with ADHD may make careless errors, misread directions, struggle with comprehension, or have difficulty with timed tasks.

  3. Completion of behavior rating scales such as the Behavior Assessment Scales for Children (BASC) by teachers and parents.

Behaviors associated with ADHD occur on a spectrum from mild to severe, and their manifestation in one child may look very different in another child. Here are some common characteristics:

  • Gets frustrated or gives up easily on tasks, or moves on to new areas of interest quickly, not seeing activities to completion

  • Difficulty with impulse control, including stopping to consider consequences of behavior

  • Difficulty remaining focused; easily distracted by extraneous stimuli or by one’s own thoughts

  • Poor short-term working memory

  • Poor long-term memory, as evidenced by poor recall of previously learned factual information

  • Difficulty managing emotional reactions, such as temper tantrums

  • Difficulty sitting still; moving in his seat or touching materials nearby

  • Often interrupts others due to poor listening skills and a lack of poor verbal self-control

  • Difficulty following directions due to poor focus when the directions were delivered or the inability to remember multi-step directions

  • Impatient, with an inability to delay gratification

  • Difficulty with organizational, planning, and prioritizing skills

Some children experience many of the symptoms, whereas others only experience a few. Some may experience symptoms to a mild degree, others to a severe degree. However, by the virtue of the term “disorder,” to be classified as such it must have a significant impact on the child’s functioning.

Some children exhibit symptoms from a very early age, quite obvious to those around them. Others may not be impacted by the characteristics until middle school, high school, or even college, when the demands of schooling increase and their need for organizational and study skills heightens. ADHD runs in families. If your biological child is diagnosed with ADHD, there is a 50 percent chance that you, their other biological parent, or both also have ADHD.


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