What Is ADHD And What Are Causes Of ADHD In Children?

What Is ADHD And What Are Causes Of ADHD In Children?

Your child never seems to sit still.
He runs through the house dumping out toy bins in every room and constantly jumps on the furniture.
He is interested in one toy for only a few minutes before he is off to another one.
You feel like you are in a whirlwind just trying to keep up with him.
You start to wonder, “Why can’t he sit still and focus?”
A couple friends have made comments to you that he shows signs of ADHD.
You wonder, “What is ADHD and what are causes of ADHD in children anyway?”

If you’ve ever wondered…or worried…about whether your child (or a child you know and care about) might have ADHD, then you need to become an informed parent who won’t rush to judgment, overreact, or be misled by well-meaning, but unreliable advisors. You need to know:

  1. What is ADHD?
  2. What are causes of ADHD in children?
  3. How can you tell if your child is energetic, “hyper” or has ADHD?
  4. Who can diagnose ADHD and what do (or should) they consider when making the diagnosis?
  5. If my child is diagnosed, how do I know if their behavior is the result of the ADHD or something I can influence?
  6. What can I do to respond to ADHD behavior before trying medication or in addition to it?
  7. What ADHD treatments are available for ADHD management?
  8. Can ADHD medications cure it?

(This article is part of a series that addresses all these questions. This article answers the first four questions.  The second article in the series, “What Can Be Done To Help Decrease Behavior Problems Due To ADHD In Children” answers questions 5 and 6. The last article, Should My Child Use ADHD Medications?  Are There Any Other ADHD Treatments That Work, answers the last two questions.)

What is ADHD? 

True ADHD is a biological condition and there is no single method that accurately diagnoses it.

ADHD children are not lazy, defiant, or bad. They often understand what they are told, but have difficulty controlling their impulses to do what they know they should do.

What are the causes of ADHD in children?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role. Like many other illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors, and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD.”

How can you tell if your child is energetic, “hyper” or has ADHD?

ADHD is often misdiagnosed because other factors have not been ruled out first. These include:

  • Other medical problems, such as food allergies, auditory processing problems, or learning difficulties, can cause behavior that looks like ADD or ADHD.
  • Certain child development stages have typical behaviors that can be mistaken for ADHD, such as young, energetic boys or highly creative children with great imaginations who seem to lack focus or not be paying attention.
  • Similar behavior can also be the result when children haven’t learned self-control, decision-making or listening skills.

All these factors must be ruled out, before diagnosing a child with ADHD.

Who can diagnose ADHD and what do (or should) they consider when making the diagnosis?

 If you have eliminated the above and are still concerned, you want to involve a team of people from four critical areas:

  1. Parents are a good source of diagnostic information since they are with the child the most.
  2. Teachers can make observations of the child’s behavior in large groups. Children can have a “learning disability” and not be ADHD. Some children have learning difficulties because their ADHD is untreated. Often, there are environmental factors (such as too much noise) that make it difficult for children to concentrate at home or at school, but they don’t have a physical problem.
  3. Medical doctors can rule out food allergies and hearing/visual problems, which have symptoms that mimic ADHD.
  4. Psychologists or psychiatrists who are specially certified and trained in ADHD assessments can perform psychological testing and are the only people, including child or family-focused professionals, who can diagnose ADHD. Not your neighbors, your preschool teacher, school counselor or even a Licensed Social Worker, like me. The most any of us could do is tell you we recognize signs that could possibly be ADHD and recommend the child be assessed by a qualified professional.

 You can determine whether professional assessment might be necessary by reviewing the standard criteria for diagnosing ADHD, which is found the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V or American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.).

 Briefly, the child will display six (or more) symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level. (See link above for the list of actual diagnostic wording and list of specific symptoms.) And, in addition, some of the hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms are also (paraphrasing of the diagnostic criteria at the link above):

  • Present before age 7 years,
  • Cause clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning,
  • Are present in two or more settings (e.g., at school and at home), and
  • The symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of another mental or physical disorder.

 As a result of the various factors identified in the diagnostic criteria, there are actually three types of attention deficits:

(1) Inattentive (ADD),

(2) Hyperactive/Impulsive, and

(3) Combined type (ADHD).

If you want more information about ADHD in children and practical skills you can teach your children to improve problem areas such as: ADD children’s difficulty in paying attention, ADHD children managing their hyperactivity, and how you can teach ADD/ADHD children to be less impulsive, get the “Helping Kids Live With ADHD deluxe audio training package, featuring two interview with David Zidar, an ADHD specialist.


Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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