Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
What Is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It can be defined as a mental health disorder, specifically a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity that are above normal. People with ADHD may also find it difficult to sit still for long durations of time or focus their attention on a particular task.
Although ADHD tends to be more common in children, it may also be present in adults.
Signs And Symptoms Of ADHD
The range of behaviors or symptoms that are associated with ADHD is very wide. However, they can be classified into two areas:
- Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
People with ADHD that display symptoms of inattention tend to often:
- Overlook or skip necessary details when carrying out certain activities
- Develop slight difficulties with focusing their attention when carrying out certain activities like reading or having conversations
- Fail to complete tasks they start because of an inability to follow through on given instructions or directions
- Manage time poorly
- Get distracted by thoughts that are unrelated
- Easily forget things required to be done in sequence or routines
- Easily misplace objects necessary to carry out certain tasks
- Avoid or shy away from tasks which require their focused attention for long durations of time
- Easily forget about appointments
Hyperactivity And Impulsivity
People with ADHD that display symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity tend to often:
- Find it difficult to remain seated for too long especially when required
- Find it difficult to wait in line
- Interrupt others during conversations or other activities
- Experience trouble staying quiet
- Constantly move around
- Talk nonstop
- Run or move around particularly in situations that require a lot of their attention
- Fidget while in their seats
To be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must have displayed inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity; or symptoms in both categories or that these symptoms must have been seen to cause significant interference in daily activities.
The combination of symptoms that may show may also be influenced by the type of ADHD that the person has.
Types Of ADHD
To create more room for a more consistent diagnosis of ADHD, the American Psychological Association has established three major classifications for the types of ADHD. And these types are as follows:
- Predominantly inattentive type
- Predominantly hyperactive and impulsive type
- Combined type
Predominantly Inattentive Type
As the name states, persons with this type of ADHD tend to display inattention symptoms more than any other category of symptoms, which means they encounter difficulties in focusing, completing tasks assigned m to them, and following through with given instructions.
Experts believe that when the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD appears in children, it might be slightly more difficult to get a proper diagnosis because they may not cause disruptions in class and other places. This type of ADHD is the most common type amongst girls that have ADHD.
Predominantly Hyperactive And Impulsive Type
People who have this type of ADHD tend to manifest more of the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity than any other category of symptoms. This may include interrupting people during conversations, inability to wait in line and always being on the go.
Overall, inattention tends not to be a major source of worry for persons with this type of ADHD. However, they may still face some difficulty in concentrating on tasks.
The combined inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive type happens to be the most common of all the types of ADHD. People who have this type of ADHD tend to display a combination of both categories of symptoms. These symptoms include difficulty in focusing attention, an inclination to be impulsive and hyperactive.
The type of ADHD a person has tends to play a strong role in the determination of how the condition will be treated. There is also the possibility that the type of ADHD a person has can change over time, and as such, the treatment may have to change too.
Who Can have ADHD?
There is the common misconception that ADHD is a disorder that is exclusively a condition in children. While that is true, studies have shown that 4% of American adults above the age of 18 also manage ADHDdailys.
Persons of any age can be diagnosed of ADHD, though it is more common in children as the average age at which ADHD is diagnosed is 7 years of age according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
ADHD is also not restricted to gender as it can be diagnosed in both males and females. Although, there is a higher chance that males will be diagnosed with ADHD as the likelihood is 3 times greater in males than in females, with 13% of the male population eventually being diagnosed as opposed to 4.2% on the females' sides.
ADHD In Adults
Over 60% of the people who were diagnosed with ADHD as children still display the symptoms when they get older. Though, a lot of people tend to experience a decrease in the symptoms and frequency as they grow older.
The importance of treatment cannot however be downplayed. ADHD, if left untreated can cause significant interference in several aspects of the person’s life, causing trouble with activities at home, at work and in various interpersonal relationships.
ADHD In Children
Research has shown that ADHD is one of the most common disorders of childhood neurodevelopment in the United States, with about 1 in every 10 children within ages 5 and 17 years being diagnosed with ADHD.
For most children, it is in school that most symptoms of ADHD tend to be exhibited. Children who have ADHD tend to often encounter some level of difficulty within a controlled class setting.
In children, a lot of the symptoms of ADHD may pass as typical behaviors of childhood, which makes it tricky to ascertain whether they have ADHD. Taking a diagnosis test however increases the chances of certainty.
What Causes ADHD?
Till date, despite the prevalence of ADHD, there have been no certain factors known to cause ADHD. It seems to be generally agreed that it has neurological roots and that genetics might be a contributory factor.
One research suggests that a factor that may contribute to a person having ADHD is the reduction in the amount of dopamine, a chemical that aids the transportation of signals from a nerve to other nerves. It is also responsible for triggering responses and movements based on emotions.
Another research states that a contributory factor may be a structural difference that has been noticed in the brain. A reduced volume of grey matter has noticed in persons that have ADHD. This reduction reflects in areas that grey matter is known to influence, areas like speech, muscle control and decision making.
Though the causes of ADHD may not be known, certain factors may increase a person's chances of being diagnosed with ADHD. These factors include:
- Smoking, drug use and drinking during pregnancy
- Exposure to various environmental toxins at a young age or during pregnancy
- Injuries in the brain
- Low weight at birth
ADHD has more prevalence amongst males as opposed to females. Also, females who have ADHD are more likely to encounter troubles with inattention primarily.
Testing And Diagnosis
A lot of experts are of the strong opinion that diagnosis of ADHD cannot be achieved based on any single test.
In order to arrive at a diagnosis, there has to be an assessment of symptoms that the child has had during the preceding 6 months. A checklist is made for taking records of the child’s history from teachers, parents, and even the child.
To aid the assessment, provide as much relevant information as you can.
No cure has been discovered for ADHD. However the condition can be treated and managed effectively. In treating ADHD, two major methods can be applied, medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
Many people take medications to reduce their hyperactivity and impulsivity, which will help them focus better on tasks. Medications can also help with improving physical coordination of persons with ADHD. Not all medications work for everyone, which is why the certified health practitioner making the prescriptions has the duty of monitoring the use of the medication to ascertain what works effectively.
The types of medications that may be prescribed are:
Stimulants are the most common of the types of medication. Stimulants work by enhancing dopamine and norepinephrine production, which aid in thinking and maintaining focused attention.
Stimulants may be regarded as safe particularly under strict medical supervision. But there may be side effects if misused or abused.
The prescribing medical practitioner should be duly informed about other health conditions like high blood pressure, heart, liver and kidney diseases, or seizures as the stimulant medications can interfere with these conditions.
The medical practitioner should also be informed of any side effects that may be experienced.
There are medications for treating ADHD that are non-stimulants. The effects may take longer to show but the non-stimulants are equally effective in improving focus and impulsivity in persons who have ADHD. Certified medical practitioners may often prescribe non-stimulants when they experience severe side effects from stimulants or when the stimulants do not seem to yield results. They could also be prescribed together with stimulants to enhance effectiveness.
The patients should work with the prescribing medical practitioner to determine what works best for them.
Behavioral therapy has proven very effective especially with younger children and can be combined with treatment. It may even be considered before medications are introduced.
Behavioral therapy helps to manage the symptoms of ADHD. In children, it helps teachers and parents understand how to derive better behaviors in the children while aiding coordination.
If you think you are exhibiting symptoms of ADHD, take this online test to find out more.