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Attention Deficit Disorder

By Gretchen May - Extension Educator 4-H Youth and Family Development University of Massachusetts at Amherst Cooperative Extension

Approximately 2 million school-age children, or 3-5%, have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The diagnosis of ADD is based on information from a wide variety of sources, including parents, caregivers, educators, and healthcare professionals. The list below, established by the American Psychiatric Association, gives the characteristics that a child must exhibit for at least six months beginning before the age of seven. Since ADD often coexists with other childhood disorders, a complete assessment includes an evaluation of the child's medical, psychological, educational, and behavioral functioning. A detailed history, including medical, family, psychological, developmental, social, and educational factors, is essential to establish a diagnosis. Standardized behavior rating scales are essential to assess how the child functions in a variety of settings including home and school.

Characteristics of ADD

    1. Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.

    2. Has difficulty remaining seated when required to do so.

    3. Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.

    4. Has difficulty awaiting turns in games or group situations.

    5. Often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed.

    6. Has difficulty following through on instructions from others.

    7. Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

    8. Often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another.

    9. Has difficulty playing quietly.

    10. Often talks excessively.

    11. Often interrupts or intrudes on others, e.g. butts into other children's games.

    12. Often does not seem to listen to what is being said to him or her.

    13. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at home or at school, e.g. toys, pencils, books.

    14. Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences, e.g. runs into street without looking.

No one knows for certain what causes ADD. Evidence suggests that a chemical imbalance in certain neurotransmitters may be the cause of the problem. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health showed differences in brain metabolism between ADD and non-ADD adults. Brain metabolism was abnormally low in the ADD adults, and it was low in the parts of the brain that are important for attention, handwriting, motor control, and inhibiting responses. Evidence also suggests ADD is frequently the result of heredity and, less frequently, the result of pregnancy and birth complications, acquired brain damage, toxins, and infections. There is little evidence that ADD can result from social or environmental factors, diet, or poor parental management.

Best results are obtained when medication, behavior management programs, educational intervention, parent training, and counseling (when needed) are used together to help the child with ADD. Parents of children with ADD play the key role in coordinating these services. Caregivers can play an essential role in helping the child with ADD within the day care setting. Adjustments in day care procedures and work demands, sensitivity to self-esteem issues, and frequent parent contact can make the critical difference for these children.

ADD is often a life-long disorder requiring life-long interventions. Families, and the children themselves, need continued support and understanding. By recognizing the disorder early and taking steps to assist the child with ADD and his family, many negative outcomes commonly experienced by the child can be avoided or minimized. Protecting self-esteem and avoiding a chronic pattern of frustration, discouragement, and failure are of greatest importance.

Researchers have found that parents and caregivers can reinforce a child's compliance to directions or requests by using time-outs for non-compliance.

Children with Attention Deficit Disorders (CH.A.D.D.) is a non-profit, parent-based organization providing support to families of children with attention deficit disorders and information to professionals. CH.A.D.D. maintains chapters nationwide to provide support for children, adolescents, and adults with ADD. To locate the chapter nearest you, contact a school psychologist at a local public school or ask a pediatrician.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. (1993). Attention deficit disorder. In M. Lopes (Ed.) CareGiver News (March, p.1). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension.

Please note
The information provided by and its contributors is for help and guidance only. You should always consult an appropriate professional.

Attention Deficit Disorder Links

  • Alternatives in Education for the ADD Child
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Archive
  • Attention Deficit Disorder for Teachers - Canada
  • ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Auditory Processing - Texas
  • Living with A.D.D.
  • Reading clinic treatment for attention deficit disorders
  • SaveOneStarfish Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD
  • Taking Your ADD To College


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