Q: “I think my child may have attention deficit disorder [ADD]. What should I do and where can I go to get her tested?
A: First go to your child’s teacher for assistance and more information on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], the clinical term more recently used to accurately describe ADD. Tell the teacher about any learning difficulties you’ve noticed, says Janis White, director of special education for the county Department of Education.
Ask the teacher to refer your child to the school counselor for ADHD screening, which involves a series of interviews and questionnaires. These tests usually look for common ADHD symptoms, such as short attention span, impulsiveness, restlessness and/or difficulty in beginning or completing tasks.
But even if your child shows some of these signs, that doesn’t necessarily mean she has ADHD. Right now, there is no sure-fire way to diagnose the condition.
“These are subjective tests,” said James Swanson, a researcher on ADHD and the director of the child development center at UC Irvine. “There may be other reasons that may cause the child to show these behaviors and it could be misrecognized as ADHD.”
An anxious or depressed child may show symptoms of ADHD, but instead could be trying to cope with trouble at home. Your school’s counselor will probably want to interview you to gain a full grasp of your child’s history and circumstances.
They will also want to know whether your child began showing signs before turning 7 years old, he said.
“ADHD is not just about behavior and activity,” Swanson said. “The signs must be persistent and present, serious enough for the child to have problems at home and school.”
The school counselor may refer you to a private specialist or suggest you seek a child psychologist or family pediatrician for further evaluation. You should make sure the doctor tests the child extensively for various psychological and physiological conditions such as poor motor coordination.
If your child is eventually diagnosed with ADHD, the common treatment is medication, such as Ritalin, an amphetamine. The cause of ADHD is debatable, but research has found that it is a genetic malfunction in the neurotransmitters, chemicals that fuel the attention and impulse centers of the brain. Medication works to boost the flow of neurotransmitters to help the child focus and relax.
But you have many options to explore. Behavior modification and to a lesser extent biofeedback are used to help children with ADHD. Ask for a variety of names and specialists. Some children respond well to medications other than Ritalin that have fewer or no side effects.
You might want to find out more about the entire process and your rights and options before contacting school officials. Contact the local CHADD (Children and Adults with ADD) group that meets monthly in Garden Grove (714) 490-7022, or LADDERS (Local ADD, Education, Resource and Support) in Fullerton at (714) 680-0663.
If your child’s case seems less serious, ask teachers to help by simplifying and condensing classroom instruction and modifying tests. Specialized teaching, usually in a resource room, each day is another choice.
If you are unhappy with the school’s ADHD test results, go to the school district’s special education office for additional help or screening. You also can appeal through the state Department of Education in Sacramento for parents who want to contest a school district’s findings.
If you have concerns about the special education programs at your child’s schools, contact the Special Education Hearing Unit, Institute for Administrative Justice, McGeorge School of Law, 3200 5th Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95817, or call (916) 739-7053.
Would you like some expert advice about how to help your child have success with learning? Write to the Counseling Center c/o The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626, or fax us at (714) 966-7711.