An increasing number of Australian children are being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, with estimates at more than 400,000 children and young people aged 19 and under currently struggling with the condition. Chances are, your child knows someone with ADD or ADHD, or may even have been diagnosed. But what is ADD? How is it different from ADHD, and why is it such a common problem?
ADD and ADHD are very similar diagnoses. They are typically associated with childhood, though adult ADD/ADHD is fairly common. Most adults with the condition, however, are misdiagnosed and/or have found strategies for coping with the condition.
ADD is attention deficit disorder. ADHD is similar, but the H stands for hyperactive. People with either variation have trouble concentrating, which may appear as inattentiveness (ADD) or hyperactivity (ADHD). The hyperactivity makes ADHD easier to diagnose, while symptoms of ADD may be misdiagnosed as shy or learning disabled. There is also a combined type of ADD/ADHD, which makes diagnosis and treatment even more complicated.
Symptoms of ADD/ADHD include impulsivity, disorganizations, absent mindedness, inability to concentration, distractibility, a tendency to daydream, and sometimes acting out. While it is possible for children younger than school age to have ADD or ADHD, diagnosing children at this age should be done with caution, as many of the symptoms are quite normal in children this age.
Not long ago, school age children with these symptoms were labelled difficult and were often punished for their behavior. Today, we know more about how the brain works and we now understand that these symptoms are not simple misbehavior, but that the brain actually works differently in those individuals.
Like any other diagnosis, not all symptoms are exhibited in all sufferers, and severity can range from mild to severe. Treating the problem depends on accurate diagnosis of the specific type of ADD.
A great deal of research has been conducted on the effects of ADD and ADHD with the hope of developing effective treatments. At the University of California Center for Mind and Brain, scientists studied 40 children ages 12-17. Of the participants, 17 had a diagnosis of either ADD or ADHD. Participants were given certain computer-based tasks. For example, a series of arrows might be displayed and the children had to indicate which direction the middle arrow pointed. Visual cues were provided to assist in the tasks. The scientists used electroencephalograms (EEG) to measure the brainwaves of the children during the tasks.
The results indicated specific differences in the alpha and theta brainwaves, not only of those with ADD/ADHD when compared with those who did not have the condition, but between different types of the condition. Specifically, children with inattentive ADD showed an inability to process the visual cues, while those with ADHD demonstrated poor motor skills. The researchers hope that by better understanding the condition, they may be able to develop more effective diagnostic criteria and treatment options.
Medication is the most frequently used treatment option for those with ADD and ADHD, but there are alternative methods of managing the symptoms. Treating ADD/ADHD naturally starts with examining the diet. Many food colorings and preservatives can influence behavior, as can certain allergens. Many parents of children with ADD/ADHD report a significant decrease in symptoms when offending foods are identified and eliminated. Biofeedback, massage, yoga, and tai chi can all help retrain the brain to help the sufferer manage their attention and energy.