New Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say that children as young as four can be diagnoses and treated for ADHD.

The previous research was more than a decade old and covered children from 6 to 12, but with more research and understanding of the issues surrounding ADHD in children, the upper limit was also expanded to include teenagers to age 18.

Dr. Mark Wolraich, lead author of the report released Sunday at the AAP National Conference in Boston.

“There is now enough evidence to address this broader age range,” he said. “We know that identifying and treating kids at a young age is important … because the earlier we can provide treatment, the better chance of success.”

ADHD affects some eight percent of children and teens and is the most common neurological disorder in youngsters. Behavior such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, poor social skills and inability to follow directions are the main indicators. It is not thought best to medicate the youngest patients, rather try to help them over come the condition with behavioral therapy and parental training. Showing them consistency and structure around meal, bath and bed times can be important.

However Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who has been studying the condition since the 1970s says low doses of Ritalin can assist even the youngest cases where other therapies do not produce results.

Some studies have shown that those with ADHD are at greater risk of dropping out of school, car accidents, substance abuse and its well known they can be difficult to deal with; subject to tantrums and generally distracted.

For older children who are already in school the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends both medication and behavioral therapy.

Wolraich clarified the overall approach should be to treat all ADHD cases the same, and the problem should be approached as would any chronic illness:

“You also want to see the patient frequently enough … especially as a child moved from elementary school to junior high and junior high to high school.”

Dr. Mark Roome, a Flossmoor-based pediatrician, applauded the new guidelines.

“Kids who don’t get treated are at a much higher risk for everything from low self-esteem to poor grades to being socially immature … They can go many years with daily reminders that they can’t do what other kids do … and it just wears them down … parents have to be their child’s advocate and get them the help they need … and get it early.”

In the most severe problems doctors can sometimes refer their young patients to mental health professionals. Dr. Petrit Ndrio, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Naperville, was glad to see the pediatricians guidelines :

“The more we can educate parents, the more understanding and help we can give kids … If you would take a child with a vision problem to an optometrist for glasses, why would we not treat kids who have trouble with their brain circuitry?”

Penny Williams, the author of the blog “A Mom’s View of ADHD,” said she was “very excited” to hear about the revisions … especially because it means coming up with treatment strategies before a child starts school. She said this about her son :

“… If I had know about his ADHD and learning disabilities in kindergarten, I would have held him back a year.”

Written by Rupert Shepherd