Have you ever been so bored that you didn’t know what to do with yourself? Maybe your parents wanted you to sit and watch an old movie where everyone is always breaking into song. Sitting there, you might have felt fidgety and squirmy and wanted to bounce off the walls.
Imagine having that feeling a lot. That’s what it can feel like to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Feeling this way a lot of the time can make it difficult for someone to get work done at school or follow instructions given by a parent. Kids who have ADHD might yell out the answers to questions before other kids in class have a chance to raise their hands. They also can be disorganized, distracted, and forgetful. They might lose things and have trouble finishing assignments. They may move around a lot, talk nonstop, or interrupt other people’s conversations.
Most kids do some of these things some of the time, but when a kid is acting this way a lot of the time, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. One of these people can figure out if the kid has ADHD.
With help, kids with ADHD can learn to act differently. Sometimes medicine can help a kid take control of his or her behavior, but only a doctor can decide if ADHD medicine is needed.
Medicine and the Mind
There are a lot of different types of ADHD medicines. They don’t cure ADHD, but do help kids have better control of their behaviors. They help a kid with ADHD focus better, pay attention, not be as distracted, and be less hyperactive. If a kid stops taking ADHD medicine, the symptoms can come back.
ADHD medicines affect chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters (say: nur-OH-tranz-mit-urz). Neurotransmitters help send messages between nerve cells in the brain. Some of the medicines for ADHD are called stimulants, but instead of stimulating the person and making him or her more jittery, they help control ADHD symptoms. Stimulant medicines work right away, and kids taking them may notice an improvement very quickly.
Other ADHD drugs are called non-stimulants. Non-stimulants can take up to a few weeks to start working. The kid’s doctor and parents will decide which is the best medicine for the kid based on the kid’s symptoms.
The medicine comes in pills or capsules, liquid, and even a patch. The doctor will explain how often the kid needs to take the medicine. Parents and kids will have to work out a schedule for taking it so it becomes part of the normal routine, like teeth brushing.
It might take a while to find the right medicine and the right amount (the dose) that works best for a kid. While this is getting worked out, it can be frustrating for the kid and parents who want things to get better. Once the right medication is found, things often start to improve for someone with ADHD.
And just like with any medicine, the kid’s parents and doctors will want to watch for side effects, which are other problems or symptoms that may be caused by the medicine. Not all kids have side effects. But those who do might have a decreased appetite, stomachache, headache, trouble sleeping, or irritability (feeling grouchy).
How Therapy Can Help
Along with medicine, behavior therapy can help kids with ADHD. This means learning a different way of doing things and learning ways to stay calm and keep focused.
To do this, a kid and his or her parents might see a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, social worker, or counselor). As part of behavior therapy, teachers and parents might create charts or other systems for rewarding the kid for meeting goals that have been set.
At school, kids with ADHD might need to work on staying seated or finishing class work. At home, the goals might be remembering to put dirty clothes in the hamper and keeping track of important things, like shoes and backpacks.
Once a kid can meet these goals, he or she will probably feel happier, which is the best medicine of all!
Reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD
Date reviewed: July 2014