What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neuro-behavioral condition that affects millions of children each year. For many, this condition begins in childhood and persists well into adulthood. For others, however, it appears to naturally “fade-out” or improve once the individual becomes an adult. There is no specific test used to diagnose ADHD, so some experts believe it is over-diagnosed, while others believe it is under-diagnosed.
How Common is ADHD?
It is one of the most diagnosed childhood disorders.
Are Boys or Girls Most Frequently Diagnosed with ADHD?
Boys are diagnosed with ADHD more frequently than girls.
What are Common ADHD Symptoms?
ADHD symptoms vary based on the child, however, there are some symptoms that children with ADHD tend to experience. For instance, children with ADHD typically have a hard time paying attention to details – at home and at school. They also tend to be “extremely active” or hyperactive. Moreover, children with ADHD are usually more impulsive or “rash” than children who do not have the condition. Lastly, some children may have one or two of these symptoms, while others may exhibit all three.
Note: It is “normal” for children to exhibit one or two or even all three of these behaviors from time-to-time, however, when these behaviors persist past the “normal” timeframe for them or if your child exhibits these behaviors long past the time when others in his/her age group stopped doing them – it may be time to get your child evaluated by a trained health professional.
Other symptoms normally associated with ADHD include poor self-esteem, a lack of confidence, low grades or poor academic performance, and short-lived and/or volatile or dysfunctional relationships.
Remember, it’s “normal” for children to occasionally be “absent-minded,” hyperactive, and/or impulsive. They are children, after all, and their minds and bodies are still developing. A problem occurs when these behaviors continue, worsen, and/or persist way past the time when they should be lessening.
For a child to be “officially” diagnosed with ADHD, he/she must display the following symptoms for at least 6 months and to a greater degree than other children of the same age. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), your child may have ADHD, if he/she falls into one or more of the following three subtypes of ADHD:
- Exhibits six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness
- Exhibits less than six symptoms of inattentiveness
- Exhibits six or more symptoms of inattentiveness
- Exhibits less than six symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsiveness
- Combined (Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive)
- Exhibits six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness
- Exhibits six or more symptoms of inattentiveness
Symptoms of hyperactivity
- Squirming in one’s seat or fidgeting with one’s hands or feet
- An inability to remain seated when it’s expected – i.e. during meals, storytime, etc.
- Running and/or climbing when it’s inappropriate
- Problems with playing quietly and/or completing calmer activities
- Being always on-the-go
- Constantly touching and/or playing with anything within sight
- Talking non-stop – even when asked to be quiet
Symptoms of impulsiveness
- Is extremely impatient
- Blurting out answers before the question has been completely asked
- Displaying “unchecked” emotions and/or performing irrational or impulsive acts – without regard for the consequence
- Has a hard time waiting for things he/she wants or waiting for his/her turn
- Frequently interrupts conversations or activities
Symptoms of inattention
- Does not pay attention to details and makes careless mistakes on schoolwork & homework
- Has a hard time paying attention for long periods of time – i.e. during tasks or play
- Gets bored with tasks quickly and bounces from activity to activity
- Does not appear to be listening when spoken to directly
- Frequently daydreams
- Becomes easily confused
- Is slow at completing tasks
- Has problems completing tasks on time or by the deadline
- Does not follow instructions
- Has poor organization skills
- Has a hard time grasping new concepts
- Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental concentration – i.e. puzzles, reading, etc.
- Tends to misplace things – i.e. lose toys, assignments, backpacks, keys, pencils, books, coats, etc.
- Is easily distracted
- Has a hard time processing information quickly and accurately
What Causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown and may depend on the child, which is why experts disagree on the possible causes of it. However, studies suggest that ADHD stems from a combination of genetics/biology, neurological (brain) trauma, poor nutrition – too much sugar, dyes, and salt, not enough sleep, and/or environment.
Researchers have begun to study the relationship between ADHD and nicotine use and alcohol abuse during pregnancy, biology, brain injury, and food additives -i.e. artificial colors and preservatives more in-depth. Moreover, neuroimaging studies suggest that the brain of a child with ADHD operates differently than his/her peers, specifically in reference to neurotransmitter (dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) function. But regardless of the cause of it, ADHD usually first appears during early childhood, between 3 and 6 years old.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
All children get distracted, act impulsively, and struggle to sit still from time-to-time. However, these “normal” behaviors tend to be easily misdiagnosed as ADHD symptoms. Determining what is considered “normal” can be challenging because a child’s maturity, temperament, and energy vary based on a child’s personality and level of self-awareness.
Surprisingly, you may be the first to notice that your child is developing differently from other children his/her age. Or, it may be your child’s teacher or teachers that first notice that your child struggles to follow rules, or frequently “spaces out” in the classroom.
As mentioned above, there is currently no definitive test that can diagnose a child with ADHD. Therefore, a licensed health professional (child psychologist, child therapist, pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or child clinical social worker) must fully evaluate your child – i.e. his/her behavior before he/she can diagnose him/her with ADHD.
In addition, before an official ADHD diagnosis can be made, this health professional will need to rule out any other medical conditions that could be contributing to your child’s ADHD-like symptoms. Other medical conditions like depression, sleep deprivation, learning disabilities, tic disorders, and behavioral problems may be confused with, or appear alongside ADHD. In fact, most children with ADHD have at least one other developmental or behavioral problem.
What Should I Do If I Suspect That My Child Has ADHD?
If you suspect your child may have ADHD, the best thing you can document his/her symptoms – i.e. when they arise, how often they arise, and what they are in detail. Learn about the condition, possible causes, and treatment options and then have your child evaluated by a qualified health professional.
What are Common ADHD Treatments?
It is important to understand that treatment will not cure ADHD.
However, it may help curb some, if not all, of the symptoms of it. It can also help your child better manage his/her symptoms, so it doesn’t wreak havoc in his/her life. Treatment typically involves a combination of methods, such as counseling (psychotherapy), lifestyle changes (healthy diet without sugar, dyes, and preservatives, proper sleep, plenty of exercises, and/or medication. The good news is that with proper treatment and child counseling, children with ADHD can grow up to be happy, successful adults.
Remember, ADHD is a chronic condition. What does that mean? It means that approximately 50% of children diagnosed with ADHD will have trouble paying attention, and/or behave impulsively – even as adults. But, with the help of medication, psychotherapy, and/or behavioral training, these individuals can learn how to better manage their symptoms, so they can go on to lead productive lives. Still, it’s important to understand that your child will require extra guidance, structure, and understanding from both you and their teacher(s). Because, by the time your child is diagnosed, blame, frustration, and even anger may have accumulated within the family or within the classroom environment. Therefore, you may need to participate in parenting therapy or anger management therapy in order to develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to your child.
Keep in mind that if ADHD is not properly treated, it can negatively affect your child’s academic performance and friendships. Also, prepare yourself to be exhausted. Parents of children with ADHD are often tired and frustrated. Why? Because this condition can cause each family member to experience a high level of stress at times.
Help My Child Be Better Organized & Follow Instructions
There are many ways that you can help your child be better organized and follow instructions. In fact, the best way to combat the effects of your child’s ADHD is to be vigilant and proactive, if you suspect that something is “amiss” with your child. If your child’s problem is inattention and disorganization, there are things you can do to help your child get back on track until you can get an appointment with a health professional.
These tips include:
- Post a schedule of tasks (i.e. homework, sports, TV, family time, etc) at a central location in the home and try to follow the same routine every day.
- Make sure the house always tidy and neat. Have a specific place for everyday items like clothing, backpacks, toys, food, etc.
- Help your child organize his/her school materials and supplies, and stress the importance of writing down instructions for homework assignments.
- Be clear and consistent. In other words, use words that your child can understand.
- Reward good behavior. Children with ADHD often receive a boatload of criticism, but not so much praise. Praise will get your child’s attention – so do it when warranted.
Can Adults Also Have ADHD?
Yes! But, unfortunately, many adults with this condition aren’t even aware they have it. Why not? Well, because adult ADHD symptoms tend to be more varied, and not as clear cut, like those in children.
What Are Some Adult ADHD Symptoms?
It’s important to highlight that although most studies and articles focus on child ADHD, adults can also be diagnosed with late-onset ADHD or childhood ADHD may persist into adulthood. Adult ADHD symptoms can lead to a host of problems, such as dysfunctional or unhealthy relationships, poor attendance or productivity at work, low grades at school, and/or dismal of self-esteem or self-confidence.
Other examples of adult ADHD symptoms include:
- Difficulty at school – i.e. low grades, making and keeping friends, etc.
- Problems at work – i.e. productivity problems, quality issues, low attendance, etc.
- Failed relationships – i.e. cheating/adultery, impulsiveness, poor communication, lack of detail, hyperactivity, etc.
- Problems with organization – messy work, forgetting where one places things/problems finding things, etc.
- Inability to maintain a job or keeping appointments
- Difficulty with daily tasks like getting out of bed, leaving for work, and/or arriving at appointments on time
- Chronic procrastination
- Restlessness and an inability to multitask
- A desire to fix things “quickly,” rather than taking one’s time and doing it right
- Frequent speeding tickets and/or a history of traffic violations
- Frequent mood swings or anger
- Trouble coping with stress
For some adults, ADHD diagnosis brings a sense of relief. More specifically, an ADHD diagnosis helps them better understand why they have been experiencing so many issues. It also offers them hope through therapy and medication.
Still, the best treatment for ADHD is still under debate. Adult ADHD treatments are similar childhood ADHD treatments – i.e. ADHD medications like stimulants, counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions. A combination of therapy and medication is often the most effective treatment.
And, while not the cause, a number of mental health conditions can occur with ADHD.
The conditions include the following:
- Mood Disorders
Adults with ADHD may also struggle with mood disorders like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, etc. ADHD does not directly cause mood disorders, however, it may worsen or trigger them – in some people.
It is common for adults with ADHD to experience anxiety. ADHD can lead to excessive worrying and “nervousness.” Fretting over one’s ADHD symptoms can trigger or increase anxiety – in some people. Therefore, anxiety must be managed, in conjunction, with ADHD symptoms for treatment to be effective.
- Personality Disorders
Adults with ADHD have a higher risk of personality disorders like narcissistic, histrionic, or borderline personality disorders.
How Can I Find a Good Therapist For Me or My Child?
If you or your child suffers from ADHD, it is imperative to seek treatment. Remember that with medication, psychotherapy, and/or behavioral training, individuals (children and adults) can learn how to better manage the symptoms, so they can live happy and successful lives.
In fact, the prognosis of ADHD with treatment is good. If you are wondering where you can find a good therapist for you or your child – look no further, our TherapyTribe Directory can help you find a good ADHD Therapist, while teaching you more about available ADHD treatment options.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://princetonnassaupediatrics.com/files/dsm-criteria-for-adhd-handout.pdf
- Dryer, R., Kiernan, M., & Tyson, G. (2006). Implicit theories of the characteristics and causes of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder held by parents and professionals in the psychological, educational, medical and allied health fields. Australian Journal of Psychology, 58(2), 79–92. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049530600730443
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- Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC Psychiatry, 17, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3
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