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Hyperactivity is a difficult term to define, since it means many things to many people. Hyper, means "above," and activity scarcely needs an explanation. In strictest definition, hyperactivity refers to activity, most often physical, above the normal level for a person within a particular age group. There are moments when we all may feel a little hyperactive or behave so. We might be excited about an upcoming event and unable to sit still or when we go to sleep, our minds race and we have trouble staying asleep.
For children, hyperactivity usually refers to a set of behaviors: twitching, wriggling, being unable to stay seated, or having parts of the body constantly in motion, like a jiggling foot or a bouncing leg, or alternately, being unable to remain quiet when a teacher is talking. Think Robin Williams during one of his comedy routines or even in an interview (without the profanity) to get a sense of the hyperactive child. This is often paired with an extremely short attention span, especially in school settings. When the two are noted together, they may suggest a condition called attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It is very difficult to diagnose ADHD, especially when kids show hyperactivity prior to school age, and in the first few years of school. Children, and most especially boys, tend to need a higher level of activity than the school setting allows. Being unable to sit or pay attention for a half hour or more is not necessarily ADHD or hyperactivity, especially in young children. It merely signifies that the child has not yet mastered that facility. Realistically, most children cannot be diagnosed with ADHD until they are in second or third grade at the earliest. In all cases, a doctor, like a developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist, should make diagnosis since ADHD is considered a medical disorder.
ADHD is not the only cause of hyper behavior, which is why the condition requires medical attention if it persists and does not improve. Children with poor sleep habits may be regressive in behavior and exhibit hyperactive behavior. One recent study suggested that children who snore may be particularly prone to hyperactive behavior, and when they have their tonsils and adenoids removed, they may cease to be hyper.
Other conditions like high thyroid levels, bipolar disorder or lead poisoning can cause a usually calm child to become hyperactive. High levels of anxiety, significant problems at home between parents, or child abuse might all lead to hyperactivity. Yet it’s very important to remember that diagnosing this condition doesn't occur over a few days, but may be a matter of a few years.
There’s significant debate in the scientific community and among parents on how to treat hyperactivity. Some believe that the best course is to treat the condition with medications that help to calm the child, or even the adult. For children, these are usually stimulants, which actually have a reverse effect. Some suggest diet changes, like switching to high protein diets for kids and adults who may have ADHD. Others believe the condition is only a disorder in so far as it interferes with parents or teachers’ lives, and that children will outgrow it. There is evidence that a small group of people does not outgrow the condition, but agreement on actual percentages is hard to find.