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Top 5 questions about ADHD | Dr. William Winter is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Will Winter, MD, FAAP

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What does ADHD look like? How do you diagnose it?
ADHD stands for "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". So, basically, what we see are problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

In short, the child with ADHD is the one in 20 in the class that takes up 80% of the teacher's time. He is the one who is always squirming in his seat or using any excuse to get out of it.

Also, some children have attention deficit without hyperactivity. This type of presentation is more subtle and typically "flies under the radar". It may take years to realize that poor academic performance is not due to low IQ.

How do you treat it?
Parents need to be educated, supported and directed while working together as a team with the child psychiatrist and the child. This is a family project, not one left to the child alone. Therapy can be useful and adjusting the child's environment to help fit to his or her needs can also be useful. Finally, medication can be quite useful.

What are the long-term affects of medication on the brain?
To date, there are no studies that have shown long term harmful effects of medication to treat ADHD. And some of them have been around for over 50 years.

On the contrary, there are studies that show a significant correlation between untreated ADHD and criminal activity later in adolescence. We don't find this to be the case in those who were treated.

Once you start it, does that mean that you will be on it for life?
ADHD used to be thought of as a childhood condition. Today we realize that adults have this as well. Generally, as children become older, the hyperactive component tends to improve substantially.

Inattention, on the other hand, may not. On the other hand, interest precedes thought. As we become older we often have more control when it comes to subjects that we take or work that we choose to do. If we are interested in it, it will be easier to focus on it, even though the inattentive component of ADHD may not have resolved.

As for taking medication, that is a decision made by the patient in conjunction with his treating doctor.

It seems like more people have ADHD these days. Why?
The short answer is that we don't know. However, it is almost certainly because today we are more aware and astute. Today we have the understanding and the treatment. And now that we can treat this in childhood, all of those years in school do not have to go to waste.