Posted: Aug 06, 2012 10:00 AM
As a society, we like to label things. Is our child’s misbehavior one of those things?

ADHD is a true mental health diagnosis that requires professional intervention. The problem, some say, is that the disorder is over-diagnosed. In fact, "Seventy percent of those labeled with ADHD are misdiagnosed," says Dr. Stephen Guffanti, a self-described "poster child for ADHD."

So while many experts continue to advocate awareness, others are asking, "Are we using the ADHD label as an excuse for bad behavior or, perhaps, bad parenting?"

What is ADHD?

No matter what your parenting style, it cannot cause ADHD.

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). It is believed that ADHD sufferers may lack certain brain chemicals that help control behavior. As many as 5 out of 100 children may have ADHD, and the majority are boys.

While the challenges associated with ADHD -- inability to sit quietly, pay attention or control behavior -- often begin before age 7, they may not be noticed until the child is older. No matter what your parenting style, it cannot cause ADHD.

Signs and types of ADHD?

The primary symptoms of ADHD include the following:

  • An inability to pay attention (attention-deficit)
  • Always very active (hyperactive)
  • Acting before thinking (impulsive)

Any one of these symptoms -- or a combination of two or more symptoms -- may indicate one of three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive type: the child is easily distracted and unable to focus on tasks or follow instructions
  • Hyperactive-impulsive type: the child is very active (fidgety) and talkative and has trouble waiting his turn
  • Combined type: the child is inattentive, impulsive and overly active

The combined type of ADHD is by far the most common.

Is it ADHD?

Bad behavior is a symptom of ADHD but, in and of itself, bad behavior is not ADHD. As a parent, you have the ability to observe your child's behavior over time and in a variety of settings, and this is key to helping you determine whether it's something more.

  • Does your child misbehave in all settings -- at home, at school, at the park?
  • Has your child been misbehaving consistently for six months or more?

If you answer yes to these questions, there's a possibility that your child is ADHD. A professional diagnosis -- which involves 18 criteria -- is necessary to know for sure.

Misbehaving is a normal part of growing up

"Misbehaving and its consequences help children learn how to self-regulate their behaviors and emotional reactions," says Pediatric Neuropsychologist Armande Gil, Ph.D., at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, Florida. "When children with ADHD misbehave, they have difficulties learning from the consequences of their behaviors and applying it to future situation."

Children with ADHD cannot self-regulate their behavior, emotions, motivations, attention and reactions

For a child with ADHD, misbehavior isn't always a choice. "Children with ADHD cannot self-regulate their behavior, emotions, motivations, attention and reactions," explains Dr. Gil. "So they may behave in a way that looks like misbehaving when in fact they just cannot adjust their functioning to the structure around them."

It's difficult for parents to be completely objective about their own children. If you suspect something more than just normal misbehavior, be honest with yourself, gather input from others (such as teachers) and consult your child's pediatrician about what to do next.

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