Q. My first-grade son is having some problems in school. His teacher says he is very distractible and is having a difficult time paying attention and following directions. Does this mean he has Attention Deficit Disorder? I am concerned about having him labeled and on medication at such an early age. What should I do?
Although ADHD is a common reason for a child to have school problems, there are many other possibilities that should be considered, such as hearing or vision problems, anxiety and learning disabilities, to name a few.
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First, I would schedule a conference with your son’s teacher (if this has not already occurred) to get more details about what type of problems she is noticing. For example, is he having more behavior and discipline problems? Is he having academic problems? And if so, do the problems seem to be in one specific subject area like reading or math? It is also important to find out whether these issues were seen during the entire year or if they are new. Did his kindergarten teacher also have any of these concerns?
Once you have gathered this information, he should get a complete physical exam, as well as a hearing and vision screen. His pediatrician should be able to screen for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He may then be referred for educational testing to evaluate him for a learning disability. As you can see, there are many steps in the process prior to reaching the diagnosis of ADHD.
I also wanted to address a few of your questions regarding his age and the treatment of ADHD. By definition, ADHD symptoms are present prior to 7 years of age; however, the symptoms may become more apparent as academic demands increase. Medication is only one part of the treatment plan for ADHD. Management of ADHD also involves changes to the child’s environment, parent education and behavioral therapy. Whether his school issues are caused by ADHD, a learning disability or something else, early diagnosis and intervention are critical to his future academic success.
For more information about ADHD, visit www.aap.org.