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What You Need to Know about ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood and often lasts into adulthood. About 1 in 10 children in the United States, 4-17 years of age, have been diagnosed with ADHD, based on parent report. Costs associated with childhood ADHD have been conservatively estimated at $38 billion or more, annually1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to understand how this disorder affects children and families, so that more can be done for treatment and prevention.

In order to make sure children with ADHD reach their full potential, it is very important to get help as early as possible. Although there isn’t a known cure for ADHD, it can be successfully managed and some symptoms may improve as the child ages.

What is ADHD?

Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, may act without thinking about what the result will be, or, in some cases, may be overly active. Many children have trouble focusing and behaving at one time or another. However, these symptoms may become a disorder if they continue over time and cause difficulty at school, at home, or with friends. ADHD may put a child at risk for other concerns and conditions and the impact may continue into adulthood.

Children with ADHD:

  • often have other behavioral disorders
  • may have problems making or keeping friends
  • may show risky behavior that can lead to injury
  • may have problems succeeding in school

What to do if you are concerned

If you have concerns about ADHD, the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other disorders, like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. The guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing ADHD have recently been updated. You can read more about diagnosis and about the recent changes here.

You can take your child to a specialist such as a child psychologist, child psychiatrist, or developmental pediatrician, or you can contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or public school (for children 3 and older).

In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, treatment recommendations differ by age. Younger children might benefit most from behavior treatment; older children may benefit more from medication. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way. You can read about treatment recommendations here.

There are many treatment options, so parents and doctors should work closely with everyone involved in the child's treatment — teachers, coaches, therapists, and other family members. Taking advantage of all the resources available will help you guide your child toward success.

To provide you with information on ADHD, symptoms, and treatment, CDC sponsors the National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. 

Parenting a child with ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging. Here are some tips.

  • Create a routine. Try to follow the same schedule every day, from wake-up time to bedtime.
  • Get organized. Put schoolbags, clothing, and toys in the same place every day so your child will be less likely to lose them.
  • Avoid distractions. Turn off the TV, radio, and computer, especially when your child is doing homework. But watch your child – some children focus better if they don’t have to be perfectly still. Doing things like chewing gum, standing, or listening to background music may help your child pay attention.
  • Be clear and direct. Avoid long explanations. Use clear, brief directions to remind your child what is expected. Breaking longer tasks into small steps often helps.
  • Use goals and rewards. Use a chart to list goals and track positive behaviors, then reward your child's efforts. Be sure the goals are realistic—baby steps are important!
  • Discipline effectively. Instead of yelling or spanking, use timeouts or removal of privileges as consequences for inappropriate behavior.
  • Help your child discover a talent. All kids need to experience success to feel good about themselves. Finding out what your child does well — whether it's sports, art, or music — can boost social skills and self-esteem.
  • Take care of yourself. Parenting a child with ADHD can take a lot of effort and can be stressful, so parents need a break and time to rest as well.

For more tips and information on behavioral interventions please visit the website of the National Resource Center on ADHD.

A review of parenting programs for preschoolers found that effective programs help parents develop a positive relationship with their child, teach them about how children grow and learn, and help them manage unwanted behavior with positive discipline. You can read more about preschool programs here.

What CDC is doing to help children with ADHD reach their full potential

It is important to know just how many children might have ADHD, and how the estimates change over time. Accurate data on ADHD are needed for service providers, health professionals, school systems and families. The CDC uses national surveys that ask parents about their child’s health to learn more about the:

  • number of children with ADHD
  • type and use of ADHD treatments
  • number of children taking medication for ADHD
  • impact of ADHD on children and their families

The information in these surveys is based on reports by parents. A recent study found that the estimates of how many children have ADHD based on parent reports and estimates based on medical records are similar. You can read a report about the validity of parent-reported ADHD diagnosis here.

More Information

1Doshi JA, Hodgkins P, Kahle J, Sikirica V, Cangelosi MJ, Setyawan J, Erder MH, Neumann PJ. Economic impact of childhood and adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the United States. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Oct;51(10):990-1002.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.07.008. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

  • Page last reviewed: October 24, 2013
  • Page last updated: October 24, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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