Signs to evaluate a child for ADHD

The transition back to in-person learning among peers after pandemic imposed isolation may be happening more smoothly for some children than others.

As the end of the school year’s first quarter approaches, a Northern Virginia child psychiatrist recommends a close evaluation of how students are doing. It’s also ADHD Awareness month.



“For the majority of kids, they have been able to adjust,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, a mid-Atlantic medical group, who practices in Burke and Falls Church, Virginia.

Signs a child might need help include “challenges with attention, focus, processing, falling behind academically, feeling like they’re not able to catch up, having challenges with impulse control, calling out in class, acting out before actually thinking, being easily frustrated, very overwhelmed,” Patton-Smith said.

If children are experiencing those characteristics, Patton-Smith recommends parents and kids talk with each other, to the child’s school and then to the child’s health care provider — whether it’s a family practitioner, a pediatrician or a mental health provider.

The difference between difficult adjustments to virtual learning versus an ADHD diagnosis: Patton-Smith explains.

“Just to make sure there’s nothing happening that might be addressed with a diagnosis of ADHD,” she said.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder of attention and focus, where children sometimes have difficulty processing what’s happening and things get lost, Patton-Smith explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child with ADHD might do the following:

  • Daydream a lot;
  • Forget or lose things a lot;
  • Squirm or fidget;
  • Talk too much;
  • Make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks;
  • Have a hard time resisting temptation;
  • Have trouble taking turns;
  • Have difficulty getting along with others.

Most children with ADHD receive a diagnosis when in elementary school. But “for an adolescent or adult to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms need to have been present before age 12,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Patton-Smith wants parents to know that a child being diagnosed with ADHD isn’t the end of the world; it’s highly treatable with either cognitive-behavioral strategies and, or medication, and just requires an adjusted learning style.

“It really is that kids are having difficulty processing everything at one time. The brain is just not set up that way. And so what happens is, if a kid is trying to process everything at one time, things get lost, they get distracted, and then they get frustrated,” she said. “A diagnosis of ADHD has nothing to do with how smart your child is. A lot of kids with ADHD are highly intelligent and do very well. They just need to be able to settle down and focus.”

A great resource for parents according to Patton-Smith is the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website.

“It is a non-biased, independent website. They can give a lot of information and helpful tips,” Patton-Smith said.

“And then obviously, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ healthy children.org is always a great resource for ADHD, parenting issues, and just really trying to figure out where your child is at school, whether it be social, emotionally, academically or otherwise.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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