Children who are
hyperactive often have learning difficulties and problems relating to
others. Experts may differ in their approach to treatment, but most affected
children will calm down as they grow older.
As every parent knows, all children can be highly active and boisterous
at times. But hyperactive children have problems which go well beyond this.
Both physically and mentally restless, they're often unable to concentrate
and are easily distracted. They have little need for sleep and can be so
unruly that their behaviour exhausts everyone around them.
Sometimes referred to as attention deficit disorder or hyperkinetic
syndrome, hyperactivity is not a physical illness but a behavioural
disorder. Constant physical activity may be the most obvious symptom, but
the child's lack of concentration and disorganized approach to life will
often be the biggest handicap, impairing both intellectual and social
development. This, in turn, will lead to learning difficulties.
For reasons unknown, a higher percentage of hyperactive children are
blond and blue-eyed. Boys outnumber girls three to one. Some children seem
overactive from birth, while others may develop behavioural problems from
about school age onwards.
The causes of hyperactivity are thought to vary from child to child, and
they are a subject of much disagreement among experts.
Some believe there may be a genetic link, because hyperactive children
are more likely to have fathers who were hyperactive. Children with mental
handicap, cerebral palsy, autism or some forms of epilepsy may also be prone
Others believe hyperactivity is largely triggered by the family
environment. They see it as a problem which needs to be dealt with by the
family as a whole.
And some specialists claim that hyperactivity is a result of birth
trauma, with a brief loss of oxygen during delivery causing brain damage
that is so slight it cannot be detected in diagnostic tests. Another
controversial theory holds certain food allergies responsible.
HOW IT'S DIAGNOSED
No laboratory test can diagnose hyperactivity, so identification is usually
based on close observation of the child's behaviour by the parents, teachers
and doctors, along with detailed interviews.
Treatment depends very much on the individual child and the point of view
of the experts involved. Once any physical problems, such as hearing defects
or other illnesses, have been dealt with and ruled out as the cause,
treatment options may be considered.
CHOICE OF TREATMENTS
The more complex the problem is, the more likely it is that several
different professionals will be involved in treatment. There are several
• Behaviour modification therapy aims to change bad habits and improve
the child's concentration. It rewards good behaviour and ignores bad
• Psychotherapy helps children to understand their behavioural and
emotional problems. Though useful, it's rarely enough on its own to treat
• Family counselling can help a family see themselves as working together
against a common problem, rather than against each other. It may also teach
parents how to deal more effectively with their child's behaviour.
Medication can be a powerful remedy, but drugs are usually prescribed
only in select cases. Surprisingly, amphetamines, which normally act as
stimulants, seem to relax hyperactive children. Tranquillizers, such as
diazepam, are rarely prescribed as they can make children even more
unstable. Major tranquillizers, known as neuroleptics, may sometimes be
prescribed in very low doses. The length of drug treatment will vary but all
children will be able to come off medication eventually.
• Complementary therapies have had a mixed degree of success. The most
popular include cranial osteopathy, acupuncture, art therapy and holding
• Diet modification therapy still remains a controversial treatment.
Numerous experiments have failed to produce convincing evidence that it
works, except in the few children whose symptoms are caused by food
Most hyperactive children grow calmer as they get older, and become easier
to live with.
Often the child has been unable to make friends, so his social problems
may remain and need to be dealt with as adolescence approaches. Learning
difficulties may continue and remedial lessons may therefore be necessary.