ADHD: How Common Is It and Could My Child Have It?

November 14, 2023 | jamesclinic


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder observed first in childhood that lasts through adulthood. Learn more about the prevalence of ADHD, how to recognize it, and what your treatment options are.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental childhood disorder. Children with ADHD generally have difficulty focusing, managing impulsive behaviors, and may be overly active. The exact causes of ADHD are unknown, though research suggests that genetics play a significant role, as well as exposure to certain risk factors, including brain injury, environmental exposure to substances such as lead, substance use during pregnancy, premature delivery, and low birth weight.

Additional factors, such as diet and exercise, or lack thereof, can significantly impact the severity of ADHD symptoms, but they are not likely the true cause of the condition. ADHD is a complex condition that is not diagnosed through any single test, but rather a combination of medical exams, neuropsychological assessments, observations, and parent and teacher reports can lead to an ADHD diagnosis.

How Common is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed in children, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Millions of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the condition. As of 2016, over 6 million children, or approximately 9.4 percent of children aged 17 and under had a diagnosis of ADHD.

Additionally, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. On average, nearly 13 percent of boys are diagnosed with ADHD at some point, in comparison to just 5.6 percent of girls. As more research is conducted and general awareness of the condition spreads, the estimated number of children diagnosed with ADHD rises. In 2003, approximately 4.4 million children held an ADHD diagnosis, which increased to 5.4 million children in 2007 and 6.4 million in 2011. This number dropped slightly to 6.1 million children with the diagnosis in 2016, though survey methods changed so data can’t be compared directly.

Signs Your Child Could Have ADHD

All children struggle at times with maintaining attention and focus. Children with ADHD, however, exhibit persistent difficulties with these behaviors and they do not grow out of them. While not every child with ADHD exhibits the same symptoms to the same degree, children with ADHD frequently struggle with the following:

  • Daydreaming
  • Forgetting or losing things
  • Squirming or fidgeting
  • Talking too much
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Difficulty controlling impulses or resisting temptation
  • Turn-taking
  •  Getting along with others

When the above symptoms become severe enough, a child can start to experience difficulty at home, in school, and with peer relationships. Checking in with your child’s teacher or other care providers can help you gain an understanding about how pervasive the symptoms are and whether they warrant treatment.

For a more comprehensive list of symptoms of ADHD, visit the CDC’s page on Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.

The Three Types of ADHD

Since symptoms of ADHD can vary significantly from child to child, there are three different types of the conditions. The type a person has depends on which symptoms are the most dominant. The types of ADHD, as explained by the CDC, are as follows:

      Predominantly Inattentive: Children with predominantly inattentive ADHD struggle with paying attention, organizing and finishing tasks, following instructions or conversations, and can be easily distracted or forgetful, even when it comes to daily routines.

     Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive: A hyperactive-impulsive child may fidget or talk a lot, have difficulty sitting still, and may have a constant urge to run, jump, or climb. Children with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may interrupt others frequently, grab things away, speak out of turn, have difficulty waiting for their turn and listening for instructions. They may also get into more accidents and receive more injuries than others.

     Combined Presentation: Children with a combined presentation of ADHD exhibit an equal mix of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors.

It is important to note that symptoms and their severity can change over time, especially as children develop. For this reason, the presentation or type of ADHD in a child can also change over time.

Your Treatment Options

ADHD is a developmental condition that cannot necessarily be cured, though it can be successfully managed. Successful treatment often involves a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. The CDC reports that approximately three out of four children with ADHD in the US receive some form of treatment.

A 2016 parent survey revealed the following treatment data among children aged 2-17 with ADHD:

  • 62 percent took ADHD medication
  • 47 percent received some form of behavioral treatment
  •  23 percent received no treatment or medication

Of the children receiving ADHD treatment:

  • 30 percent were only using medication
  • 15 percent only received behavioral treatment
  • 32 percent utilized medication and behavioral treatment together

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 6 start with behavioral interventions, rather than medication. The first line of treatment for young children should include behavioral classroom interventions, as well as parent training in behavior management. For difficult cases where behavioral interventions are not sufficient, medication can be used.

For older children and adolescents, a combination of medication, behavioral interventions and accommodations in school, and parent training are likely to be the most effective. Experts agree that complementary treatments used in combination with one another typically work best.

When to Seek Help.

If you have concerns about your child’s attention and behavior, speaking with your child’s healthcare provider or a qualified mental health professional is a great place to start. They can help evaluate your child’s symptoms and make appropriate referrals for further diagnosis and testing, when warranted. Psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other primary care providers can all diagnose ADHD, as well as other childhood disorders.

If you are concerned, do not hesitate to seek support. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can get an individualized treatment plan in place for your child to help them get the most out of their family, social, and academic experiences.