Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

School is back in session, and it’s important to notice how your child is doing in the classroom. While it takes a few weeks to adjust back to post-summer life, children should get back into the groove of school quickly. If not, start asking yourself some simple questions. Are they keeping up with other students? Is your child more distracted than others? Are they unable to focus on their homework in the evenings or are teachers e-mailing you with concerns? While there could be a multitude of reasons for distraction, a growing disorder known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), could be the root of the problem.

ADHD is a developmental disorder that affects three to five percent of school-aged children. Symptoms can include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Your child may also seem depressed, not able to get enough sleep, or even have what looks to be a learning disability. It is important to talk to your health-care provider about the symptoms your child may be experiencing in and out of the classroom. There are multiple diagnoses a child could have besides ADHD, and doctors should eliminate all other options before diagnosing them with ADHD.

Below Mark Mahone, PhD, ABPP, director of Neuropsychology, answers three common questions parents have on the disorder.

My son/daughter has been diagnosed with ADHD. Does this mean our younger children could also have ADHD?

ADHD definitely runs in families. If an older sibling (or parent) has ADHD, it does mean that the younger sibling has a greater risk of having ADHD (than if there was no ADHD in the family). That being said, it by no means indicates that the younger sibling will have ADHD, nor does it indicate that the child is “more likely than not” to have ADHD. It only means that the risk goes up.

Can toddlers get sugar highs that cause behavior similar to ADHD?

Most people can get a very temporary burst of energy from ingesting carbohydrates (like sugar). It usually doesn’t last long, and can often be followed by a period of sluggishness. The behaviors associated with ADHD are very different. They last longer, are more pervasive, and occur across different settings and over time.

Do diets have an effect on toddlers in the development of ADHD?

Diet has a significant effect on the health of all children. Poor diet can exacerbate symptoms in children who have developmental disorders like ADHD. Poor diet can also be associated with a variety of other health problems—all of which can affect physical development and brain development. Poor diet alone, however, doesn’t cause ADHD.


Mark Mahone, PhD, ABPP, is the director of Neuropsychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. He is also an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.