Where does one turn when they fear that their child or teenage son or daughter is suffering from attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD)? Most families turn to their family physician or pediatrician for help, which is usually a good first step. Such health care professionals are usually able to make the initial assessment.
A reliable diagnosis and effective treatment of ADHD, however, is best made and carried out by a trained and experienced mental health professional who specializes in helping children and teens with attention deficit disorder. Such professionals are usually child psychologists, child psychiatrists, as well as some developmental or behavioral pediatricians and behavioral neurologists. Some clinical social workers and mental health counselors may also have such specialized training and experience.
Most parents consult with their child’s pediatrician or family physician first. While some pediatricians may do the initial ADHD assessment themselves, parents should always ask for a referral to an appropriate mental health specialist for treatment. Pediatricians are not mental health professionals and usually aren’t aware of the range of non-medication, effective treatments also available.
Child psychiatrists are adept at prescribing the right medication at the right dose for a teen or child with ADHD. Nearly any time your child or teen needs a psychiatric medication — such as those used to treat ADHD — they should be prescribed by a child psychiatrist or psychiatrist (or psychopharmocologist) with rich experience in writing prescriptions for teens and children. Typically such professionals are seen for an initial appointment (which can be anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes in length), and then seen again monthly for medication check-ups.
A child psychologist or child therapist who has specific experience and background in helping children and teens with ADHD should be consulted for psychotherapy (psychiatrists don’t usually do much psychotherapy any longer). This is especially true if the child has other learning or mental health difficulties, including anxiety, fears, depression, or motor tics. Psychotherapy used to treat ADHD is usually conducted once-weekly for a 50-minute appointment with the child or teen alone. Psychotherapy treatment length varies from 6 or 8 months, all the way into a few years.
A neurologist may be consulted if there is concern there may be specific brain trauma, such as that sustained through a brain injury or other injury to the head (such as a concussion). A neurologist can run brain scans and other tests that they deem appropriate to rule out brain injury as a possible cause of symptoms. Most children and teens — unless they’ve sustained a specific head injury — do not need to consult with a neurologist.
It is important to nearly always also involve the child’s teacher. Educators can lend valuable insight that helps health professionals arrive at an accurate diagnosis and plan the best treatments for that child. Teachers can convey how the child is behaving in school and help review the child’s academic progress.
Even though many children and teens will never completely outgrow ADHD, a thorough assessment and treatment catered to the individual’s particular set of challenges can help them master their symptoms and lead productive, achievement-filled lives. Many believe the disorder’s characteristic behaviors can actually give these individuals a unique creative edge.
Attention deficit disorder is not a typical brain handicap, nor does it in anyway limit a child’s potential. Most teens and children with ADHD go on to have successful careers in an array of occupations.