Understanding ADD and
ADHD in Children

What is ADD/ADHD?

ADD and ADHD in children is diagnosed in over 6 million or about 9% of school-aged children. Children affected can have problems paying attention, difficulty concentrating, difficulty following simple instructions, have a need to physically move their body or are very compulsive. Both attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can interfere with school functioning. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Girls might not show the same hyperactivity or impulsivity symptoms as boys which may lead to missed diagnosis in females.

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.

1.  INATTENTION: 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.

2.  HYPERACTIVITY: 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.

3.  IMPULSIVITY: 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 a disorder. ADD and ADHD in children are both considered medical conditions and should only be diagnosed by a physician, NOT by your school. Due to developmental differences and changes during puberty, is very difficult to diagnosis this disorder under the age of 6 or as teenagers. It is recommended that children be evaluated for ADD and ADHD between the ages of 6-12 years old. 


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 they can be caused by the following:

  • Heredity: ADD and ADHD tend to run in families
  • Chemical Imbalances
  • 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 considered developmental disorders. Medication and/or 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.

Your school should never recommend that your child go on ADHD/ADD medication as this is a personal decision to be made only by the parent and the child's physician. 


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) because these are medical conditions, not learning disabilities.

Parents are often angry and 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 ADD or ADHD. But, like everything in education, things are not set in stone. There are two possible paths of assistance for students with severe ADD or ADHD. 

If you feel your child’s ability to learn is being adversely affected by their ADD or ADHD, you should ask your school for a student study team (SST) meeting. Special education law is written so that each IEP team can determine what a child needs in order to be successful. If the IEP 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 or medical condition affecting a major life activity, such as learning, is subject to appropriate accommodations or modifications. This includes ADD and ADHD.

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 severely impacting their ability to be successful, the IEP team can agree to qualify your child for special education under the category of “Other Health Impaired”. 

However, because 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 always be the first step.

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