What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is a common psychiatric disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. It can occur in children, adolescents and adults. While ADHD symptoms always begin in early childhood, an individual may not be diagnosed with ADHD until later in life.
Not all individuals with ADHD have all three symptoms. There are three subtypes of ADHD:
Combined Type - Both symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity / impulsivity are present
Predominately Inattentive Type - Inattention without hyperactivity - also known as ADD
Predominately Hyperactive-Impulsive Type - Hyperactivity / impulsivity without inattention
Symptoms of inattention include:
- Trouble listening when spoken to
- Trouble following instructions
- Trouble with organizing tasks and activities
- Trouble with tasks involving sustained mental effort
- Often loses things
Symptoms of hyperactivity / impulsivity include:
- Fidgets with hands and legs
- Trouble staying seated
- Runs and climbs when inappropriate
- Trouble engaging in quiet play or activities
- Often on the go
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers before the end of a question
- Trouble waiting ones turn
- Interrupts or intrudes on others
Children with ADHD often have problems at school, at home, and with making or keeping friends. As a result they may have poor self-esteem. Low frustration tolerance is another common problem experienced by these children. Children with ADHD may also have other problems that exacerbate their functioning, including learning disabilities, oppositional behavior, and mood disorders.
Adults with ADHD may find that they have problems at work, with their interpersonal relationships, and with effectively handling day-to-day tasks. They are often very disorganized and scattered.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
ADHD is typically diagnosed based on the patient's (or their parents') report of a set of symptoms. However, in some cases, it is not clear whether someone's symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity are due to ADHD or some other problem, such as anxiety. There are several psychological tests that are available to aid in the diagnosis of ADHD and differentiate it from other problems with similar symptoms. This is particularly important because treatment options differ based on whether the problem is truly ADHD or attributable to another underlying diagnosis. For this reason, ADHD should only be diagnosed by a doctor, preferably a psychologist or psychiatrist.
How is ADHD treated?
Treatments available for ADHD are cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication.
Cognitive-behavior therapy is used to train patients to self-regulate their behavior and control their hyperactivity and impulsiveness. ADHD is often most detrimental when it disrupts various areas of daily life such as school / work, the ability to be organized, and social relationships. Therapy involves various types of skills training that address these deficits. For example, children and adults may be taught basic organizational skills to help them effectively organize and complete their school work, homework, or job-related work. Social skills are used to help patients regulate their behavior around peers and reduce behaviors that cause social problems. Other basic skills such as focus enhancing and concentration skills, communication skills, and self-inhibition skills to regulate impulsive behavior help individuals with ADHD function better in structured environments such as at school or work.
There are several medications that help increase concentration and decrease hyperactivity and impulsivity in individuals with ADHD. While these medications are highly effective, not all individuals respond to them. Many parents do not want their young children on medication. Additionally, once patients stop taking their medication, symptoms return. For these reasons, therapy is important to facilitate symptom reduction without dependence on medication.
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
Attention Deficit Disorder Association