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  • Pediatricians: Rule Out Other Conditions Before Diagnosing ADHD

    The American Academy of Pediatrics made some changes to its guidelines, including criteria for diagnosing ADHD.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Pediatricians: Rule Out Other Conditions Before Diagnosing ADHD
PHOTO BY iStock
  • For the first time since 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines for treating children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, changing some criteria for the diagnosis and emphasizing the need to rule out other causes of symptoms.

    ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders in children, according to The New York Times. In the United States, about 9.4% of children ages 2 to 17 have been diagnosed with the disorder. In the Philippines, parents would often wonder whether their sobrang malikot child may have this condition.

    The updated guidelines address children ages 4 to 18, with special attention given to preschool-aged children (ages 4 to 6) and teens. The changes made may help give parents clearer answers about whether their child may be affected by ADHD and how best to treat their child once he or she has been diagnosed.

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    Here are the notable changes made by the AAP:

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    Doctors need to rule out other conditions first

    The signs of ADHD typically manifest around preschool age. But it is also often confused with ADHD-like symptoms that occur with conditions like depression, anxiety, substance use, autism, and trauma.

    According to the AAP, doctors should look for other causes of kids’ ADHD-like behaviors in order to rule out a misdiagnosis or to see if there’s another disorder in addition to ADHD.

    “The majority of children with ADHD have at least one co-occurring condition — the most common in primary care are learning and language disorders,” explains Mark L. Wolraich, MD, FAAP, and the lead author of the AAP updated guidelines, in an interview with SheKnows. “We really wanted to make sure the primary care clinicians are thinking about those conditions either as alternatives to ADHD or as causes of the symptoms. Some conditions, like anxiety and depression, can cause similar behaviors and may need to be addressed first.”

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    Individuals 17 years old and above need to meet fewer problem behaviors as criteria for ADHD

    A lot of adults are not diagnosed with ADHD because symptoms like hyperactivity tend to decrease as kids grow up. But inattentive symptoms still occur in people who are 17 years old and above. By decreasing the symptoms needed for a diagnosis, older teens and adults with ADHD may receive help for the disorder more easily.

    Parents are essential in helping kids learn positive behaviors

    The best way to raise a child with ADHD is by learning about the condition itself. And according to the AAP, the first line of treatment for preschoolers aged 4 to 6 years old should be parent training in behavior management. “There was some confusion because the most common behavioral therapy for that age group is play therapy, which has not been found effective for ADHD,” clarifies Dr. Wolraich. “Instead, research has found programs that help parents manage the child’s behavior has been most effective.”

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    Kids with ADHD may benefit from approved medication and behavioral therapy

    According to an FAQ by the AD/HD Society of the Philippines, “doctors sometimes prescribe medication to stimulate the production of neurotransmitters that help our brain focus and manage ourselves.” The AAP now encourages prescribing FDA-approved medication to treat ADHD, instead of “off-label meds” or meds that are not typically meant to treat the condition.

    “We encourage clinicians to treat ADHD with both medication and behavioral interventions,” explains Dr. Wolraich. “That’s really optimal.”

    He adds, “While we know ADHD can be challenging and frustrating for families, children who are identified early and receive proper treatment can learn to manage their symptoms and be successful. With the help of supportive and caring adults, this is a team effort that pays off over the long term.”

    How can you tell if your child just has an attitude problem or if it's something else? Click here for the red flags to watch out for in ADHD.

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