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HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children

Mate mauri rere ki ngā tamariki

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental condition. It affects the way a tamaiti (child) behaves and interacts with others.

At least five of every 100 tamariki (children) have ADHD. It's more common in boys than girls. Some girls with ADHD mainly have problems with poor concentration, so they cause less disruption. This means they're less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, or they might not get diagnosed till later.

ADHD symptoms usually improve as your tamaiti child gets older. But some tamariki children with ADHD will continue to experience some symptoms in adulthood and may need ongoing help.

Causes of ADHD

We don't know the exact cause of ADHD but it's likely to be a combination of factors. These include genetics – tamariki with ADHD are more likely to have a family member with ADHD. ADHD can also be associated with:

There's no good evidence that ADHD is caused by tamariki eating too much sugar or food additives.

Symptoms of ADHD

Tamariki with ADHD have three main areas of difficulties:

Tamariki with ADHD may struggle with one of these areas of difficulty or with all three. As tamariki get older, the symptoms can change.

All tamariki (especially younger ones) are like this at times. But tamariki with ADHD are much more likely to act like this than other tamariki their age, both at home and at preschool or school.

Diagnosing ADHD

If you are concerned about your tamaiti, talk to their school teacher and your family doctor. Sometimes teachers may be the first to raise concerns and suggest that you and your tamaiti see your GP.

There's no simple test your doctor can use to tell for certain whether your tamaiti has ADHD.

To diagnose ADHD, your doctor may ask you some questions about how your tamaiti behaves and may physically examine them.

They may ask you and the teacher of your tamaiti to fill in a form rating how your tamaiti behaves in different situations, such as:

Your doctor will then compare the answers to the symptoms of ADHD.

It's also important to find out whether other problems are causing the behaviour. These could include anxiety, learning difficulties, or hearing difficulties.

Your doctor may arrange a referral to a paediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist for further assessment.

Treating ADHD

There is no cure for ADHD, but in most cases, symptoms can be managed.

In preschool tamariki children diagnosed with ADHD, behavioural and parenting strategies are usually effective.

In school-aged tamariki, a mixture of behavioural therapy and medicine works best.

Your tamaiti child may also be able to get extra support through their school. Discuss this with their teacher.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Helping a child with ADHD

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed November 2021.

Page reference: 917663

Review key: HIADH-15144