Busting myths

•Myth: It's not ADHD, they are just naughty or playful

Playful kids may just want to play but those with ADHD want to focus and do well in school, and to make friends. But they are unable to do so, said Adjunct Associate Professor Ong Say How, chief and senior consultant, department of child & adolescent psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health.

He said ADHD is characterised by serious and persistent difficulty in three areas: inattention, impul- sivity and hyperactivity. ADHD children may be ostracised in school as they can be too impatient, bossy or impulsive, he added.

To be diagnosed, the child needs to have displayed ADHD symptoms - such as hyperactivity and the inability to focus - for a stretch of at least six months, with first onset of symptoms below the age of 12.

Children are sometimes naughty. However, with an ADHD child, the symptoms are pervasive, which means that he is constantly inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital. "These symptoms lead to long-term difficulties in school and in other aspects of the child's life."

•Myth: All children outgrow ADHD

Up to 60 per cent or more experience symptoms into adulthood, said Dr Ong. Most adults with ADHD learn to cope with it - they develop enough skills to help themselves and do not need further treatment in adulthood, he added.

The hyperactivity symptoms get better with age. However, a small group may continue to struggle with the condition in adulthood and may need medication, he said.

Dr Lim said that without help, those with ADHD are likely to have career difficulties and problems with relationships. They are also more likely to be vulnerable to anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse.

•Myth: All cases need to be treated with drugs

Treatment may involve just behavioural management and environmental adjustments.

Omega 3 fatty acids supplements may also help, experts said.

Medication is needed in severe cases, but not necessarily on a regular basis.

Dr Lim said some parents worry that drugs will harm their child but the latest studies show that drugs - including methylphenidate-based medications and non-stimulants like Atomoxetine - are safe and effective for long-term treatment, under the supervision of a psychiatrist. Earlier fears of heart problems are unfounded, he said.

However, the psychiatrist needs to monitor for any side effects during treatment, he said.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Busting myths'. Print Edition | Subscribe