ADHD: actress tells her story

Kathy Baker is an award-winning actress who has starred in the big-screen movie The Cider House Rules.

But those challenges paled in comparison with helping to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in her young son and helping him learn to conquer the condition.

When her son was just four years old, Baker could already tell he was easily frustrated and struggled with erratic sleep patterns. But she blamed his troubles on her own mothering skills.

"You think, 'It's me, I'm not being patient enough, or consistent or a good disciplinarian,'" she said in an interview with HealthScoutNews Wednesday after an ADHD conference in New York City. "I was kind of floundering."

The problems persisted for five years, until, on a plane trip, she read a magazine article about an adult woman who'd recently been diagnosed with ADHD. The symptoms were strikingly similar to her son's.

Kathy's story

Returning home to California, she found her son very anxious about a school project called "Mad Minute" - if the whole class could complete an addition and subtraction problem in 60 seconds, they'd get a pizza.

"I saw the pressure he felt to complete the assignment, and it really hit home for me that he needed help," Baker said.

A close friend who herself had ADHD suggested that Baker's son, then nine years old, get tested for the disorder. And "after two-and-a-half days of testing and 20 different tests," he was diagnosed with ADHD, and began treatments that included medication and therapy.

"The medication is like brake fluid - he can learn to put on his brakes," she said, describing the hyperactivity that's often a hallmark of ADHD. "There is a big difference in his self-confidence."

Baker's hope is that by publicising her own story, other parents may recognise ADHD in their children and seek help.

"Now I understand more how his brain works and can help my son realise his potential," she said.

More about ADHD

ADHD, a genetic, neurological disorder, affects as much as 10 percent of the population, girls and boys equally, said Dr William Dodson, a Denver psychiatrist who treats ADHD in adults.

The disorder is characterised by "inattentiveness, impulsive behaviour, moodiness, tremendous inefficiency and tremendous frustration," Dodson said, who also attended Wednesday's conference.

But hyperactivity isn't always one of the symptoms, and that can prevent a timely and proper diagnosis, he said.

"Hyperactivity is present in only 25 percent of cases of ADHD," Dodson said.

When untreated, ADHD can lead to severe problems as children grow into adulthood, Dodson said. Eighty percent of school dropouts have ADHD; those with untreated ADHD have a 300 percent higher risk for auto accidents; double the risk for arrest; and triple the risk for sexually transmitted diseases, he said.

Social problems can persist into adulthood, Dodson said.

"Kids have fewer friends and poorer social skills than their peers, and as adults they lack intuitive understanding. They just don't seem to 'get' it," he said.

Treatment possibilities

But, he added, when someone gets treatment for ADHD, the risk of the above problems is no greater than the general population.

Treatment includes medication, therapy, and education for those close to someone with ADHD. - (HealthScout News)