Are You Mistaking Your Child's ADHD for Bad Behavior?

How to identify ADHD symptoms and what to do about them.

Posted: 04/27/2011 07:06 PM EDT

You've seen this child, maybe having a tantrum in the aisle at the grocery store, or running up and down the aisles on the train or bus. Most people look at the parents and shake their head, but is it just plain old misbehavior or ADHD?

About three to five percent of children in the United States (around 2.5 million) have ADHD. While Black and White children are diagnosed at the same rate, lack of health care, mistrust of Ritalin and other prescribed medications, and the belief that a child just needs a good spanking when acting out are all factors keeping some African-American children who have ADHD from being treated.


Children and adults with the mental disorder, which is also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, don't seem able to control their behavior or impulses. What makes it so hard to tell the difference between ADHD and bad behavior is that the symptoms of ADHD can look and come off as acting out, which can be frustrating for parents.

Fifty percent of untreated children with ADHD are African-American, and these children are half as likely as other ethnicities to be professionally treated.

The best way to figure out the difference is to watch your child over the course of six months in a variety of environments like home, school, the park or out to dinner. If your child is acting in the same seemingly erratic way in two or more locations, your next step should be to make an appointment for an ADHD diagnosis with a developmental/behavioral pediatrician or a child psychologist. If you notice that your child seems to be able to focus at home but not at school, this could mean that they have a learning disability. About 70 percent of all ADHD diagnoses in children are a misdiagnosis, particularly in children under seven years old.

It's not known what causes ADHD, nor is there a cure, but treatment often involves a combination of methods including positive reinforcement, boundaries, education and medication.

To learn more about ADHD, visit Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.



(Photo: Jeana-Dee Allen/Landov)