Kaitlin Mock can’t really explain why she has meltdowns.
“I forgot my humidifier,” she said, sheepishly looking at the floor as she explained a tantrum that day on the way to a summer treatment program for children with behavior disorders.
The 10-year-old Mundys Corner girl is among millions of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It’s one of the most common disorders among children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, affecting at least 1 child in 5, according to some studies.
The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 and to 11 percent in 2011, the CDC reports.
But that may be due to better screening, more awareness among parents and teachers, and more acceptance of mental health treatment, said Jill Surloff, clinical supervisor of Alternative Community Resource Program’s school-based program.
“It’s recognized more,” Surloff said.
“There is still a stigma, but it’s not as much,” said Cathy Krinjeck, ACRP outpatient program director. “In the past, if you had issues, you kept it inside. The barriers are getting broken down.”
ADHD is characterized by difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity, the National Mental Health Institute says.
For Kaitlin, it has created some problems in school.
“She has a lot of trouble with interacting with people, waiting her turn and communicating with her peers,” her mother, Jessica Mock, said.
Kaitlin has benefited from ACRP’s summer treatment program at West Side Elementary School, her mother said.
The program begins with morning lessons and activities surrounding a theme, such as making friends. Then the afternoon features more recreational activity, but carrying through on the theme.
“I think camp has helped a lot with her self-esteem,” Mock said. “She doesn’t always do well with sports. Here she is able to see she can do those skills. She’s able to see that other kids have those same struggles. She’s more willing to try new things.”
It is not surprising that Kaitlin’s ADHD has affected her education, said Dr. Aileen Oandasan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Conemaugh Counseling.
“ADHD is commonly seen in a classroom setting,” Oandasan said. “It is a disorder that affects a child in all aspects of their lives.”
Fortunately, many with the disorder can improve with treatment, she said.
“It is the most studied of all childhood disorders,” Oandasan said. “I know it is controversial, but the treatment of choice is medication.”
The medicine helps kids focus so they can learn and so they can benefit from therapy, said Matt Errett, behavioral health rehabilitative program manager for ACRP.
The program uses a team approach to design and implement therapy. Therapeutic staff support professionals are a big part.
“They do everyday activities, one-on-one, to guide the child through those activities,” Errett said. “Things like, ‘Stop and think: You’re about to do this. What’s a better decision?’ Or ‘You just did this, how else could you have handled it?’
“I say it’s like being their Jiminy Cricket, that little voice.”
Medication does not have to be a long-term solution, Errett stressed, but it helps the child with ADHD understand how to reduce its effects.
“If you are hopped up (with hyperactivity) all the time, you are not going to be able to learn all the skills,” he said. “They do get to a certain level of maturity where they can be introspective and can see their own behavior and evaluate their own action. They can think before they act.
“That’s when I see the biggest change in kids.”
Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @photogriffer57.
Facts about ADHD
• A classroom with 30 students will have between 1 and 3 children with ADHD.
• Boys are diagnosed with ADHD three times more often than girls.
• Emotional development in children with ADHD is 30 percent slower.
• One-fourth of children with ADHD have serious learning disabilities.
• Teenagers with ADHD have almost four times as many traffic citations and four times as many car accidents.