When you are seeking information about symptoms of any particular condition or disorder, it can sometimes be difficult to wade through the medical jargon to understand exactly what you may be dealing with. It is my personal perspective that it can sometimes be more helpful to hear about symptoms from either the person who is experiencing them or from a caregiver who sees the manifestation of these symptoms in the day to day. For example, I have given the firsthand experience of coping with depression symptoms on My Depression Connection in a Depression Symptoms Series. I hope to do the same thing here on ADHD Central for the symptoms of ADHD but from the perspective of a caregiver.
What is hyperactivity?
The first thing to know about hyperactivity is that it may or may not be a symptom of ADHD. It is possible that a child will be diagnosed with ADHD who does not exhibit hyperactivity. The diagnostic labels can be confusing and our Eileen Bailey helps us to understand the subtypes of ADHD in her post, “ADD or ADHD: Which is Correct?” Another thing to know about hyperactivity is that this is a symptom which may also be experienced by children on the autism spectrum. And as we are finding there can be a great overlap of symptoms between ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. My main point is that no two children who experience hyperactivity will be the same.
Hyperactivity is said to diminish for some children who are diagnosed with ADHD by adolescence. But for some, feelings of restlessness continue into adulthood.
Sometimes I think that hyperactivity is more about who observes the child than it is an objectively defined symptom. If you have a teacher who expects young children to sit quietly without moving for hours at a time, then she may describe the majority of her class as “hyperactive.” The term “hyperactive” - and is sometimes shortened to “hyper” - has become an overly used descriptor of any child perceived to be energetic and active. But when does this become a problem? When is it part of some diagnosis or a symptom that must be dealt with? The child is usually not complaining or asking for help with his energy level. It usually becomes an issue in school when the teacher or other students cannot handle your child’s inability to sit still, fidgeting, or excessive talking.
What does hyperactivity look like?
My youngest son’s first word was “GO!” He uttered it from within his crib as he was trying to make an escape. And since then he has fully embraced that word as he is always on the go from the time he wakes up until the time he crashes into bed.
What does hyperactivity look like to a parent? A blur. The cartoon character my son most resembles? The Tazmanian Devil. I say this lovingly and with affection: I have visited museums, parks and even whole cities without remembering much because we were always moving at the speed of light. I don’t dare wear any type of shoes but tennis shoes. In my old age I have become a long distance runner. Where my son goes, I follow, and fast.
The one thing about parenting a hyperactive child is that you always know where they are by all the noise they make. My son constantly talks, sings, or makes some sort of noise as soon as he wakes up. It is when I don’t hear him that I begin to worry. And usually that is the time he is getting into some trouble or making a mess.
If you have an extremely hyperactive child, it is guaranteed that other people will notice and sometimes comment. I remember an amusing incident during trick-or-treating where my son was so excited he was bounding towards the doors of the houses like some deranged elk. A cute little girl dressed as a princess was walking hand in hand with her father remarked out loud, “He is very hyperactive isn’t he?” She said this in awe as though witnessing a natural wonder. The father quickly shushed her as she continued to enquire, “Why is he moving so fast?” I liked the girl’s honest curiosity and without the judgment of most adults. If I could have answered her question I might have said,
“My son is hyperactive because he is wired that way.”
This explanation, although unsatisfactory to some, has worked for me for all these years.
What are the causes of hyperactivity?
For those of you who want a more in-depth explanation of why some kids are hyperactive, I will give you some of the findings of research on this topic. But I want to remind everyone that for the most part, nobody knows what causes this symptom. Here are some of the possible causes found in the literature.
• Some say that sleep apnea may be one cause for hyperactivity in children.
• There are other people who postulate that stress and anxiety can fuel hyperactive behavior.
• There is some research to say that certain food additives can cause hyperactivity in all children, and not just children with ADHD.
• A 2009 University of Central Florida study showed evidence that children who are hyperactive are using movement to keep themselves alert so that they can pay attention.
• Last but not least, it is my personal belief that problems integrating and processing sensory information may be at the core of a lot of hyperactive behavior.
How can hyperactivity be treated?
There are a number of strategies one can use to help the child with this symptom to reduce their hyperactive behavior. Some methods will work better on certain children. As I have mentioned before, no two kids experiencing this symptom will be the same. So what works for one child may not work for another. Bear this in mind with whatever treatments you are choosing for your child.
• The method I most use to decrease my son’s hyperactivity is a Sensory Integration approach. You can read about this method derived from occupational therapy in my post, “A Sensory Integration Approach to Helping Hyperactive Kids.”
• A good night’s sleep is essential for the child who suffers from hyperactivity. You want to make sure that your child does not get overly fatigued during the day. As you may already well know, as your child becomes overly tired, this is when you will see more hyperactive behavior and meltdowns.
• Decrease your child’s anxiety and stress. I find that much of the time, my son’s frenetic energy is being fueled by anxiety. Create a list of calming techniques which work for your child.
• Of course there are also medications to help with this particular symptom. You can view the information about all the various ADHD medications with our ADHD Drug Information Guide.
One could write a book on the symptom of hyperactivity alone. There is a lot more to say about this symptom and I am hoping that you can help to fill in the gaps with your personal experiences. What does hyperactivity feel like to the person who experiences this? What do you feel are some of the causes or triggers of hyperactivity and what can be done about it? What strategies work to decrease this excessive energy? And too, are there advantages to hyperactivity that we need to know about? As always we want to hear from our members. You guys are the true experts.