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How ADHD Affects Child Development and Learning

Childhood is a fragile time in a person’s life. The experiences you have can impact your development in a way that carries significance for the rest of your life. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a problem that can affect the way you learn and relate to the world around you. It’s a chronic disorder that affects millions of children and adults in the United States. Children growing up with ADHD may be easily distracted, they may struggle with subjects in school, and they may feel isolated. If ADHD is undiagnosed or untreated, they may also struggle with discipline and behavioral issues because they have trouble sitting still and remaining quiet. 

ADHD can be treated through psychotherapy, parenting techniques, and medications, but what happens when it’s left untreated?

ADHD in Infants and Preschoolers

ADHD is often identified when a child gets to school, and it becomes clear that something is holding them back or causing them stress. However, children that struggle with ADHD later in life, often exhibit certain symptoms and behaviors that parents and guardians recognize in hindsight. One study found that infants with what they call “regulatory problems” may be at an increased risk of developing ADHD. Regulatory problems may include excessive crying, sleep problems, and feeding problems. 

The study notes that most babies experience these issues at some point, but they usually come and go transiently. When these issues last into preschool years, it may herald a problem. Early intervention can be used to help a child cope with regulatory problems. Still, studies that look at early issues in infants have the benefit of hindsight. It might be more difficult to recognize ADHD symptoms in infants as they are happening. 

ADHD starts to show clearer signs in toddlers and preschoolers. They may be extremely active, inattentive, emotional, impulsive, and have difficulty focusing.

ADHD in Young Students

ADHD is often diagnosed when a child reaches school. Children that have difficulty concentrating can start to fall behind other students in their schooling. Completing tasks on time can become very difficult, even if they’re intelligent and gifted in particular subjects. Untreated ADHD also starts to show clear developmental consequences. It can start to cause grades to fall, and children with ADHD may get into more and more trouble for causing class disturbances. As a child begins to isolate themselves from their peers, it may cause them to be more antisocial, aggressive, or depressed. 

Long Term Developmental Issues

If ADHD is left untreated, it can start to take a toll on a child’s development. They may develop poor self-esteem, they’ll continue to have trouble interacting with others, and they are at an increased risk for developing a substance use disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, children with ADHD are also more accident-prone and may have more injuries than other kids. They also point out that ADHD is often seen with other disorders like conduct disorders, learning disabilities, anxiety, autism, and mood disorders. Treatment can help avoid some of these issues, especially when it’s started early. 

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

Mann, D. (2011, April 20). Study: Fussy Babies Linked to ADHD Risk. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20110420/study-fussy-babies-linked-to-adhd-risk#1

Mayo Clinic. (2019, June 25). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, September). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml

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