Understanding ADD and
ADHD in Children


ADD and ADHD in children is estimated to occur in 3-5% of our school-aged children. Some studies show that it affects as many as 8%. Children affected can have problems paying attention, concentrating, difficulty following simple instructions, have a need to physically move their body and are very compulsive. Both attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can interfere with school functioning.


There are three types of symptoms that tend to correlate with ADD and ADHD in children. Some children will have symptoms from all three categories. Some will have hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms but are able to pay attention. Those with ADD, do not suffer from the symptom of hyperactivity.


Children with inattention are easily distracted. They can’t follow directions or finish tasks, appear not to listen, make careless mistakes, are forgetful about daily activities, have problems organizing tasks, avoid sitting still, lose things and tend to daydream.


ADHD in children can result in squirming, fidgeting or bouncing behavior. They often struggle to stay seated, have difficulty playing quietly and are always moving and excessively talking.


Impulsive children have a difficult time taking turn, blurt out answers, and often interrupt others.

It is important to remember that many of these symptoms are common to all children and do not necessarily indicate this disorder. ADD and ADHD in children are both considered medical conditions and should only be diagnosed by a physician, NOT by your school. It is very difficult to diagnosis this disorder under the age of 6 or as a teenager. It is recommended that children be evaluated for ADD and ADHD between the ages of 6-12 years old. 


In order to receive a diagnosis, a child should show SIX or more of the above symptoms for more than six months and the symptoms should occur in more than TWO settings.


ADD and ADHD in children are NOT caused by eating too much sugar, watching TV, having a poor home life or food allergies. Studies do show that these disorders can be caused by the following:

  • Heredity: ADD and ADHD tend to run in families
  • Chemical Imbalance
  • Altered Brain Function: Brain scans reveal differences in the structure and brain activity.
  • Neo-Natal Activities: Maternal smoking, drug use, and pre-maturity all increase the risk.
  • Toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins including lead and PCB’s.

Children with ADD and ADHD are at higher risk for developing oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities and Tourette’s syndrome. They are also at higher risk to try drugs and alcohol in their future in an attempt to self medicate their symptoms. 50% of children will continue to struggle with this disorder into adulthood.


ADD and ADHD in children are both more common in boys and are considered childhood developmental disorders. Medication and behavior therapy may be recommended. Stimulants are often prescribed but they can have mild to serious side effects including decreased appetite, weight loss, sleeping problems and irritability. All medications should be monitored by a doctor.

Children with ADD and ADHD are also more at risk to have other learning disabilities and disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. It is important when determining treatment options to make sure that your child receives a comprehensive evaluation that has examined



A particular challenge for children with ADD and ADHD is that this disorder is NOT listed as one of the 13 qualifying categories of learning disabilities identified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Parents are often rightly confused when their school tells them that their child does not qualify for special education when their doctor has just told them their child has this disorder. This is because having ADD or ADHD is not an automatic entry into special education. If you feel your child’s ability to learn is being adversely affected, you should ask your school for a student study team (SST) meeting.

The law is written so that each IEP team can determine what a child needs in order to be successful.  If the team determines that modifications are appropriate for your child, they can be implemented through a 504 plan. Section 504 states that any child with a disability that affects a major life activity, such as learning, is subject to appropriate accommodations or modifications. This includes ADD and ADHD in children.

If you believe that your child's disorder is severe enough to warrant a placement in special education, you can request a special education evaluation. Here, you can introduce medical documentation and support from your physician(s). The IEP team will review the results of the evaluation, hear from medical personnel as well as from school staff. If the team determines that your child’s ADD/ADHD is severe, the IEP team can agree to qualify your child for special education under the category of “Other Health Impaired”. 

However, the law states that a child must be served in the least restrictive environment.  IF the IEP team feels the child can be served in regular education with a 504 plan, this should be the first step.

Children with special needs require structure. Structure does not refer to rigidity or iron discipline, but to arranging things so life is more predictable. A calm, organized routine makes children feel safe and tends to improve behavior.

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