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Understanding ADHD, Pt. 1

Understanding ADHD, Pt. 1

ADHD Pt. 1: Understanding the Disorder

The first in a four-part series on ADHD, this post serves as an overview of the disorder. Posts 2-4 will take a deeper look at natural treatments for ADHD, parenting a child with ADHD, and succeeding in school. Stay tuned to continue learning.

By nature, boys are an active and rowdy bunch. You may find yourself dismissing your son’s erratic behavior as childhood antics. But how can you tell if his behavior is the result of ADHD? 

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is commonly found in children and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. While symptoms lessen with age, the National Institute of Medical Health suggests an early diagnosis can help your son work through his challenges with adequate treatment and support.1

Children with ADHD show signs of either inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity on a consistent and severe basis. These children find difficulty staying focused, paying attention, and controlling their behavior. While ADHD is not viewed as a learning disability, the Learning Disabilities Association of America reports that 30-50% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability.2 Learning in a traditional setting becomes challenging at this point.

ADHD Identifications

In the most common type of ADHD, children display inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior. However, not every diagnosis of ADHD is identified as this combined type. According to Doctors have also identified children who only show hyperactive and impulsive behavior, but are capable for holding attention. Children who are simply inattentive (previously labeled as ADD) may or may not be not be identified with ADHD because they aren’t hyperactive or causing disruptions.3 

Diagnosing ADHD: Causes and Symptoms

It’s unclear what causes ADHD, but scientists are looking at the following as possible causes, depending on the individual.

  • Genes: Psychology Today notes that scientists are studying genes that may develop ADHD. Children with ADHD who carry a particular gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas associated with attention.4
  • Environmental factors: Children who are exposed to cigarette smoke or alcohol use during pregnancy possess a higher risk of developing ADHD.
  • Sugar: Many believe that sugar causes ADHD. As more research builds, no evidence has proved this link. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “researchers gave children foods containing either sugar or a sugar substitute every other day. The children who received sugar showed no different behavior or learning capabilities than those who received the sugar substitute.”5
  • Food additives: In addition to studies done with sugar, research in Britain is looking for a link between the consumption of food additives (like preservatives and artificial flavors) and an increase in activity from children. Not enough evidence to confirm this link has been found yet, but according to, the following additives may provoke attention issues.
    • Blue 1: Food coloring found in products such as Frito-Lay™, JELL-O™, Yoplait™, and select cereals and candies.
    • Blue 2: Food coloring found in Pop-Tarts®, cake mixes, and select chocolates.
    • Sodium benzoate: A food preservative found in acidic foods such as carbonated drinks and fruit juice.
    • Red 40: The most widely used food dye in the U.S. found in products such as Frito-Lay™, JELL-O™, Yoplait™, and select cereals and candies.
    • Yellow 5: The second most used dye in the U.S. found in Nabisco™, Frito-Lay™, and Kraft™ products. Yellow No. 5 is the only food dye tested alone that showed a positive link to hyperactivity.6

No test that can diagnose a child with ADHD, as ADHD symptoms vary from child to child. A licensed medical professional should review your son’s behavioral and medical history records and conduct necessary assessments before delivering a diagnosis, according to WebMD7

It can be overwhelming if your child is diagnosed with ADHD. With the right support, your child can thrive. At Grand River Academy, students are empowered through alternative learning strategies to reach their full potential. The Foundations Learning Program provides comprehensive support to any student with a learning challenge, including ADHD. 


 1National Institute of Mental Health. "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." Accessed June 30,, 2015.

 2Learning Disabilities Association of America. "Types of Learning Disabilities." Accessed July 1, 2015.

 3WebMD. “ADHD in Children.” Accessed June 30, 2015.

 4Psychology Living. "What Causes ADHD?” Accessed June 30, 2015.

 5National Institute of Mental Health. “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, ADD)?” Accessed June 30, 2015.

 6Gardner, Amanda. Health. “9 Food Additives That May Affect ADHD.” Accessed July 1, 2015.,,20439038,00.html.  

 7Wait, Marianna. WebMD. 2015. "Early ADHD Symptoms: Recognizing It in Kids, Teens, and Adults."

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