What does the little dreamer staring out of the classroom window have in common with the wild boy forever disrupting the class with his hyperactive and energetic behaviour, or with the morose, irritated child wanting to smack the little boy next door?
They all suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). About 1–2 children in a class of 20 suffer from these disorders and need to be treated with Ritalin or other prescribed medication. Not all children with learning problems suffer from ADHD. Yet a lot of children who should not be treated with Ritalin, are using it, while a lot of children who can benefit from medication, are not diagnosed and treated.
What is ADHD?
According tot Dr. Colleen Adams and Prof. Mick Leary, paediatricians at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, ADHD is a neuro-behavioural problem resulting from a malfunction in part of the brain controlling self control. The frontal lobes and adjacent brain areas are not functioning at full capacity, and the child’s concentration, activity and self control are affected.
It appears that the areas of the brain receiving auditary and visual information might be overloaded in children with ADHD. These overloaded brain areas are bombarded with unfiltered and insufficient information. Research has shown an imbalance in the neurotransmitters noradrenalin and dopamine in the frontal lobes of ADHDchildren.
Most children with ADHD are born with this disorder, but it is only diagnosed at schoolgoing age. Hereditary factors cannot be ignored. It is six times more common in boys than in girls. It affects about 5-7% of all children, with 2% affected severely.
The disorder consists of two components: some children are hyperactive (restless, impulsive, irritated, frustrated, discontented, impatient), while others are hypoactive (dreamers, not paying attention, easily distracted, subtle learning problems) or even a combination of these two flip sides of the coin in one child.
Most children with ADHD suffer academically despite being intelligent, and have difficulty with learning, reading, spelling and mathematics. A genius like Einstein might have suffered from ADHD. A lot of these kids can’t concentrate, disrupt the class, do not complete tasks and are not well liked by peers.
They have problems with their short-term memory, are disorganised and disgruntled. Most ADHD kids exhibit the social and emotional maturity of a child two thirds his age, and show a lack of common sense. They are accident prone due to poor impulse control and lack of fine motor skills.
Up to 60% of these kids will continue their strange behaviour into their adult life. More and more children with ADHD need medication as teenagers and adults.
Treatment involves medication and structuring of a routine at home with all the family members involved, less stress and confrontations, behavioural therapy and a better self image. It is important that all the correct tests are done to establish the diagnosis of real ADHD. If more than 10% of a class is treated with Ritalin, it is overprescribed to children not really suffering from ADHD, warns paediatricians.
Ritalin is effective in 80% of real ADHD cases. It stimulates the underutilised self control area of the brain, resulting in the hyperactive child calming down and the dreamer being activated. In both cases, concentration improves. In the other 20% of cases medication like Tofranil, Catapres, Aurorix or Petrofan work well. The right medication can improve a child’s problem by 80%.
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