Three to 7 percent of school-age children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or what is commonly called ADHD. Although its prevalence affects only about 6 percent of school-age youth in Illinois, many parents and teachers are still quick to assume that a child has ADHD if he or she is especially chatty or has a hard time paying attention, not really knowing that a limited attention span isn’t the only factor that determines whether a child has ADHD. Because of this, those working with youth should take the time to gain a better understanding of the disorder. Below are the things to know if you or your child’s teacher thinks your child has ADHD:

Know the ‘normal’ behavior

For children, attention span increases with age. Keep this in mind when you are wondering why your 9-year-old leaves his chair at least 20 times before writing one paragraph while your teenager sits and texts for three hours straight. Also remember that children can seem far more hyper than adults, especially right after school where they have been forced to sit for long periods of the day. In short, don’t compare apples with oranges. Research child developmental milestones, such as physical development and emotional maturity, for your child’s age group. You can find out what is normal, or appropriate behavior for your child by using the search phrase “child development and school age children” at the National Library of Medicine ( School-Age Children (

Know what ADHD looks like

The way ADHD looks is dependent upon the type of ADHD a child has. There are three different types of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, or both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), children with inattentive type ADHD will have at least six inattentive symptoms, such as being easily distracted, making careless mistakes, being disorganized, and being reluctant to engage in schoolwork or homework. Children with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD have at least six hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, such as fidgeting and squirming, running or climbing excessively, blurting out answers, and/or failing to wait for their turn. In addition, a child can only be diagnosed with ADHD if the symptoms are irregular for the child’s developmental level, occur for at least six months, affect the child’s social or academic progress, and cause the child problems in two settings, such as at home and in school.

Thus, ADHD is a complex disorder that requires observation, the reports of teachers and parents, and more formal evaluations in order to be diagnosed. You can find all the ADHD symptoms at the Center for Disease Control Prevention’s website on ADHA,

Other things can cause hyperactivity, low attention

Be aware of other things that may cause inattentiveness or hyperactivity in your child. For example, food additives, such as dyes and preservatives, have been linked to distractibility and hyperactivity in children. Studies have shown that food additives like sodium benzoate and sunset yellow coloring increases hyperactive behavior in children. Anxiety can also lead to hyperactivity and impulsivity in children. Nemours’ Kids Health website identifies nervous movements and distracted and impulsive behaviors as signs of anxiety. With this in mind, think about the situations in your child’s life that may be causing him distress. For example, conflicts at home, at school, or in the neighborhood can lead to increased anxiety in children and that anxiety can cause children to act out in agitated or impulsive ways. Also think about the sugars, caffeine, and other substances that your child consumes, which may make him or her overly excited.

Know the right questions to ask

Know that only school psychologists and other health care providers can diagnose ADHD. Other school professionals, such as teachers and principals, can only recommend that you and your child see a specially trained mental health clinician. Therefore, be prepared to ask those who are recommending your child for referral the following questions:

What strategies have youalready tried with my child in order to get him or her to pay more attention in class and/or remain calm?

Does my child display the behaviors of concern with every teacher he or she sees? And if not, why?

When did you start to notice the behaviors of concern in my child? Have you observed the behaviors for at least six months?

Making decisions regarding your child’s physical and mental health are some of the most important decisions you will ever make. Therefore, use this article as a resource in order to help you make more informed decisions about your child’s behavior, and be a better advocate for your child.

China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.