WIND POINT — ADHD is very real and very manageable, local medical professionals and educators said last week.
“When we think of hard-core neurological disorders, this is one,” Joseph Bergs, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said on Nov. 27 during a presentation and panel discussion on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Society must get beyond the point of asking if ADHD exists and must instead focus on the best treatment plans, which often involve medication, Bergs and other panelists told an audience of about 90 during the discussion at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 33 E. 4 Mile Road.
About one in 10 Wisconsin children have ADHD. It is a brain disorder, not a behavioral disorder, and it causes inattentiveness, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity, said Bergs, medical director of child and adolescent psychiatry for Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints hospital, 3801 Spring St.
ADHD is genetic like height and eye color, though it can also be caused by in-utero exposure to drugs or an illness. It is not caused by stress or bad parenting, though both can exacerbate symptoms, said Bergs, also chairman of All Saints’ Department of Behavioral Health Services.
Eighteen symptoms are associated with ADHD, including having difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play; leaving a seat when remaining seated is expected; and blurting out answers before questions have been completed, according to Bergs.
“There’s probably nobody in this room that doesn’t experience some of these symptoms on a day-to-day basis,” Bergs told attendees on Nov. 27. The trouble comes when at least six symptoms persist for at least six months and cause impairment in at least two environments, such as work, home or school, he said.
Even when symptoms are present, some will argue a child does not have ADHD because he or she can focus for hours on a task like building with Legos. But that type of attention, from inherent fascination, is easier to sustain than the direct attention requested by parents or teachers, Bergs said.
That difference can make ADHD — and its existence — confusing. So can the facts that symptoms vary and feedback about the disorder often comes from third parties because children are not always good at expressing themselves, Bergs said.
ADHD undeniably exists, though, according to Bergs and the American Medical Association, which in 1998 reported “the overall data on (ADHD’s) validity are far more compelling than for many medical conditions.”
ADHD should not go untreated because kids with the disorder typically perform worse on achievement tests and are less likely to graduate high school. They’re also more likely to end up incarcerated, involved in motor vehicle accidents and practicing unsafe sex because ADHD, with its impulsiveness, affects judgment, Bergs said.
The most common treatments for ADHD are medications and psychosocial interventions, such as moving a child to the front of the class. Other psychosocial interventions, according to Bergs, include:
• Setting measurable goals that can be met quickly, like “do what your teacher tells you today” instead of “do well this semester.”
• Praising appropriate behavior, something especially important because children with ADHD frequently hear only “don’t do that” and “sit still,” and can develop depression, anxiety and mood disorders because of it.
• Breaking tasks into smaller pieces, like covering up eight out of 10 total math problems so a child can focus on two at a time.
Those things work best when done in conjunction with taking medication, said Ann Rolling, a discussion panelist and counseling manager for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Racine office, 2405 Northwestern Ave.
Medications are accepted treatment for other brain disorders, like depression or schizophrenia, and it should be no different with ADHD, Bergs said.
The bottom line, Rolling said, is ADHD “is a very treatable disorder.”