What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children (8.4 percent), though it also affects many adults (2.5 percent). General or common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Inability to stay focused, which can lead to not paying attention
- Hyperactivity, which means the person is moving their body too much and/or inappropriately for their setting (for example, bouncing up and down during quiet reading time in school)
- Acting on impulse in any given moment without thought
ADHD is most often initially identified in school-aged children because the symptoms lead to disruption in the classroom or problems performing schoolwork. ADHD is more common among boys than girls, though the cause of that factor is unknown.
No specific causes of ADHD have been identified, though some evidence suggests that genetics contribute to ADHD. In approximately 75 percent of cases, a relative of someone with ADHD also has the disorder. Other factors that may be linked to ADHD include premature birth; brain injury; or the mother smoking, drinking alcohol or experiencing extreme stress during pregnancy.
What are ADHD symptoms?
Many ADHD symptoms, such as short attention spans, sitting still for extended periods and high activity levels, are common in most younger children. In children with ADHD, though, their heightened activity level and inability to focus are much more noticeable and greater than expected for their age. Their symptoms also cause distress and problems with daily functioning, whether at home, school or with friends.
ADHD symptoms are not due to the child being defiant or hostile or unable to understand and follow instructions or complete a task.
A diagnosis is typically based on symptoms experienced during the previous six months. ADHD is diagnosed as one of three types:
- Inattentive: six (or five for people >17 years old) of these symptoms occur often:
- Has a hard time staying focused with activities or tasks, such as listening to lectures, participating in conversations or completing long reading
- May start tasks, but does not follow through or quickly loses focus
- Seems to not be listening when spoken to (inattentive)
- Doesn’t pay close attention to details; makes seemingly careless mistakes in school or at work
- Is easily distracted
- Difficulty with organizing and managing time; may miss deadlines and turn in messy work
- Forgets to do regular daily tasks, such as chores or errands; for older teens and adults, examples include grocery shopping, returning phone calls, going to appointments, paying bills
- Often loses commonly needed daily items or tools, such as a cell phone, car keys, wallet, schoolbooks
- Avoids or dislikes (more than average) anything requiring a sustained mental effort
- Hyperactive/impulsive type – six (or five for people >17 years) of the following symptoms occur often:
- Always go, go, go
- Fidgets, taps hands or feet, squirms in a seat
- Unable to stay seated in the classroom or at work
- Runs around or even climbs when and where it is inappropriate
- Has difficulty waiting for their turn
- Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly
- Talks too much (others may not get a word in)
- Interrupts conversations or in class; may not wait to answer before a question has been finished or is not directed at them; may finish other’s sentences
- Intrudes into other’s activities without being invited; may even take over a task (a symptom more of older teens and adults)
- Uses other people’s things without asking permission
- Combined type
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
No laboratory tests can diagnose ADHD. Diagnosis involves a medical evaluation to rule out other possible medical problems. Information is gathered from parents, teachers, the patient and possibly others. Checklists also help make a diagnosis.
What do I do if I notice symptoms in my child?
Though teachers and school staff can provide information about resources or tools to help evaluate behavior and learning problems, they cannot diagnose ADHD or make decisions about treatment or administer medication at school without an official diagnosis. If you are noticing symptoms and/or your child’s teacher brings up behavioral issues, you should start with making an appointment with your child’s pediatrician.
Students diagnosed with ADHD that impairs their learning may qualify for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or for a Section 504 plan (for children who do not require special education) under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These benefits allow children with ADHD to receive instruction on study skills, behavioral modification techniques, changes to their classroom setup (for example, a yoga ball “chair” they can bounce on), alternative teaching techniques and a modified curriculum.
What should I do if I notice symptoms in myself or my adult partner?
Many adults with ADHD are unaware they have the disorder. Often, an adult partner or other close person who starts to recognize symptoms. If you recognize symptoms in either yourself or your partner, make an appointment with your primary care physician. They will be able to help begin the diagnosis process and provide you with referrals and resources.
The diagnosis procedure is the same as for children, but with the use of adult rating scales or checklists. Adults with ADHD are typically treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. Behavioral modification strategies can also help, such as finding ways to minimize distractions and increase your daily structure and organizational skills. Involving immediate family members can also be helpful.
What can I do to raise awareness about ADHD?
The Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) organization recommends the following to raise awareness.
- Print out the NRC fact sheets on ADHD and share them with your friends and community.
- Find additional resources on how you can increase awareness about ADHD and share them with others.
- Host an event promoting ADHD Awareness Month or local resources for ADHD and mental health. You may want to partner with a local organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual event is the safest choice.
- Use your social media platforms to help dispel myths about ADHD and provide facts and other helpful information.
- Speak out. Whether commenting on a social media post, having a conversation with family or friends, volunteering at your child’s school, contacting your local news media, or even your elected officials—use your voice to foster positive education and change. Let everyone know what it is like to live with ADHD and refer them to evidence-based information they can use to help spread awareness.
Awareness is education. The more you educate others, the more benefit you promote to those living with ADHD, especially for those who are unaware they or their child might have the disorder.
ADHD is a serious health condition that can create much adversity in a person’s life. With identification, proper treatment and support, they can be successful and have fulfilling lives. The ADHD, Mood & Behavior Center is always available to help you, whether providing resources or telepsychiatry visits with an online psychiatrist or online therapist. Contact us with questions and concerns or to make an appointment.