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ADHD: The benefits of early diagnosis

Written By: Katie Nielsen, B.A.S., Speech-Language Pathology graduate student

What is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting children. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the disorder is characterized by patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. In reality, ADHD is far more nuanced than the DSM-V definition suggests, and children with the condition present with varying patterns of difficulties across a number of different areas, including attention, emotion, and behaviour.

Who does it affect?

A common stereotype is that ADHD primarily affects boys. This stereotype may stem from the fact that boys with ADHD are more likely to present as hyperactive and impulsive. Because hyperactivity and impulsivity are more noticeable than some other, less visible ADHD symptoms, and because these symptoms can be disruptive at home and in the classroom, children with this type of presentation may be more likely to be referred for diagnosis and treatment. Some studies suggest that boys are more than twice

as likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis as girls. However, while boys may be more likely to receive a diagnosis, they aren’t necessarily more likely to have the condition.

ADHD may be difficult to detect in girls for several reasons. First, girls are more likely than boys to present with internalized symptoms, such as inattention or emotional dysregulation. These symptoms are not as commonly associated with ADHD. To someone unfamiliar with the condition, girls with ADHD may simply appear forgetful, easily distracted, or frequently lost in thought. Furthermore, girls with ADHD are much more likely than boys to mask, or use compensatory coping strategies to hide their symptoms. For example, girls may avoid situations they find challenging, or they may exhibit perfectionist tendencies and spend extra time checking their work to make sure everything is complete

and correct. For these reasons, girls with ADHD are especially likely to fly under the radar and are often not diagnosed until adulthood.

The benefits of early detection and intervention:

1. The earlier your child receives a diagnosis, the earlier they will be able to receive support.

Without a diagnosis, children with ADHD may not be able to receive the support they need to be successful at home and at school. Effective treatment for ADHD typically involves a combination of approaches. Therapy can help your child learn coping strategies, practice skills and behaviours that are challenging, and manage difficult emotions. Medication is not always necessary, but can help to alleviate certain ADHD symptoms.

2. Individuals with ADHD often benefit from language intervention.

Children with ADHD often have difficulties with pragmatics, or social language skills. Some signs of pragmatic challenges include trouble maintaining eye contact, frequent revisions or repetitions of words or phrases, frequent false starts (words or sentences that are cut off before completion), deviating from the topic of conversation, interrupting or speaking at inappropriate times, or speaking excessively, often without taking into consideration whether anyone is listening. Developmental Language Disorder, or DLD, is also common in children with ADHD. DLD is characterized by expressive and/or receptive language difficulties that are unlikely to resolve independently and are not attributable to a biomedical condition. DLD can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn in school, and its effects may persist into adulthood. Some studies suggest that approximately 50-80% of children with ADHD have social communication difficulties, and as many as 35-50% may have DLD. Language difficulties are treated differently than difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. A speech-language pathologist can assess whether your child is experiencing language difficulties and provide appropriate intervention.

3. Undiagnosed ADHD can worsen over time.

Even mild ADHD symptoms can cause significant long-term distress. Individuals with ADHD who don’t receive diagnoses often blame themselves for the difficulties they experience in their daily lives. This can cause them to feel frustrated, inadequate, overwhelmed, or

exhausted. They may lose motivation easily and have difficulty achieving goals. These individuals often present with mental health challenges later in life. In addition to internalization of blame and mental health challenges, untreated ADHD can lead to conflict

in relationships, social isolation, difficulties succeeding in school or at work, and an increased chance of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders.

The earlier a child’s ADHD is detected and treated, the more likely they are to achieve success. If you are concerned your child might have ADHD, consult a medical doctor or mental health professional.

Bright Spot can help in the identification and treatment of ADHD. References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2022). What is ADHD?

Healthline. (2021). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in girls: Symptoms, treatments, and more.

Mayer-Crittenden, C. (2019). ADHD and social communication. Say what?

Rice, Alex. (2018). Developmental language disorder: Why you should add DLD to your vocabulary.

Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC).

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