More than 6 million children in the U.S. have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The diagnosis can be daunting. And symptoms can be a challenge for parents and children. But treatment makes a big difference. Most children with ADHD grow up to be normal adults.

Some combination of ADHD symptoms usually appear before a child is 12 years old. They can appear as early as age 3. There are three main types of ADHD:

ADHD, predominantly inattentive type

When you have this type of ADHD, you’re not hyperactive or impulsive. That’s why a lot of kids don’t get a diagnosis right away. Some doctors, teachers, and parents overlook the other symptoms. Some people might call this form simply “ADD,” for attention deficit disorder. With this type, your child may:

  • Have trouble paying attention, finishing tasks, or following directions
  • Appear forgetful, careless, and disorganized; get distracted easily
  • Seem sluggish and slow to respond and process information
  • Daydream, “space out,” or seem shy or withdrawn

ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type

This is the most common type. With this kind of ADHD, your child may:

  • Appear restless, fidgety, overactive, and impulsive
  • Act or speak without thinking; often interrupt others
  • Talk excessively
  • Have trouble waiting their turn and staying seated
  • Move constantly

ADHD, combined type

With this kind of ADHD, kids have a both hyperactive, impulsive symptoms and those dreamy, disorganized behaviors.

Doctors and Specialists

Kids with ADHD may see a variety of doctors and specialists. Each focuses on a different aspect of care. The providers on your child’s care team may include:

Primary care provider. A primary doctor may specialize in internal medicine or pediatrics. This is the first doctor you usually see for ADHD symptoms. This provider’s role is to recognize the condition and refer your child to a specialist for further evaluation or treatment.

Developmental-behavioral pediatrician. This doctor is board certified in pediatrics and has additional training in the developmental-behavioral area. They can give you guidance for behavioral change.

Psychologist. This specialist has a master’s degree or PhD in the study of the human mind and special training in testing mental function. The results of those tests help the psychologist understand, prevent, and relieve psychological problems that can come along with ADHD. This specialist can promote your child’s well-being and personal development.

Psychiatrist. This physician specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works. This type of doctor can diagnose ADHD -- though other doctors can, too -- and use medicine to help control mood swings that can go along with the condition.

Neurologist. These doctors specialize in disorders of the brain and nervous system, including ADHD.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you suspect that your child might have ADHD, take some time to prepare for the doctor’s appointment where you’ll discuss your concerns. Gather the following information and write it down for the doctor:

  • Any troubles your child has at home or school, including any that may seem unrelated to ADHD
  • Any major stresses or recent life changes
  • Details on your child’s sleep habits, such as how many hours they sleep each night
  • All medications, vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter drugs that your child is takes and the dose for each one

Tests and Diagnosis

No single test can provide a diagnosis of ADHD. Doctors usually do a screening. They may also do some tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

For a screening, the doctor will observe your child and ask you both a series of questions. There may be questionnaires for teachers and other caregivers who know your child well, too.

The diagnosis will also include a complete physical exam, medical history, and other tests to rule out conditions that may have similar symptoms.

Some conditions that could resemble ADHD include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Language problems
  • Mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Seizure disorders
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Medical problems or medications that affect thinking or behavior
  • Sleep disorders
  • Brain injury

Medications and Treatment

ADHD is usually treated with both drugs and counseling. The goal of treatment is to change a child’s behavior and teach strategies that can help them live successfully with ADHD.

  • Stimulant drugs (psychostimulants): The most common treatment for ADHD, these balance neurotransmitters in the brains of people with ADHD to reduce inattention and hyperactivity.
  • Nonstimulant medications: These can also ease symptoms of ADHD in people who can’t or don’t want to take stimulants.
  • Antidepressants: These can also help with ADHD symptoms, but they are not as quick or effective as stimulants.
  • High blood pressure medications: These are another alternative to stimulants and can help with symptoms.

ADHD therapy isn’t just for the child who has the condition. It allows teachers, caregivers, and family members to help the child manage the condition on a day-to-day basis and to learn ways to manage it themselves. Types of counseling that can help include:

  • Behavior therapy: Behavior-change strategies to help parents and teachers deal with challenging situations. These strategies may include reward systems and timeouts.
  • Parent training: Helps parents develop ways to understand and guide their child’s behavior
  • Family therapy: Helps parents and siblings deal with the stress of living with someone who has ADHD
  • Psychotherapy: Allows older children with ADHD to talk about issues that bother them, explore negative behavioral patterns, and learn ways to deal with their symptoms
  • Social skills training: Helps children learn appropriate social behaviors
  • Support groups: Gives children with ADHD and their parents a network of social support, information, and education

Leading up to and after an ADHD diagnosis, you’ll probably have a lot of questions for your child’s doctor. Review this list of common concerns before your appointment, or print it out to bring with you.

Questions about my diagnosis

  • Other than ADHD, what are possible causes for these symptoms?
  • What kinds of tests does my child need?
  • Does my child need to see a specialist?

Questions about my treatment

  • What treatments are available, and which do you recommend?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you’re suggesting?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you’re prescribing?
  • What side effects can I expect from the medication?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend for more information?

Questions about my lifestyle and family

  • Should other family members change any of their behaviors toward my child who has ADHD?
  • Could my other children have ADHD?
  • Does my child require a different type of schooling?
  • Do I have to inform my child’s teacher about this condition?
  • Is this a hereditary disorder?
  • Will this condition disappear over time?