Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder identified by a pervasive pattern of inattention, lack of focus and impulsivity/hyperactivity that affects executive functioning — basic functions of the brain that includes memory, organization, time management and concentration. While it is typical for individuals – particularly children – to exhibit hyperactive, energetic behaviors at times, those with ADHD display intense, more consistent symptoms that interrupt daily life and can cause significant impairment in all areas of their life, affecting family dynamics and social interactions.
ADHD was originally believed to be a childhood disorder in which a child would eventually grow out of, but more research has shown that ADHD can last a life time and change from hyperactivity/impulsivity behaviors in children to more inattention, lack of focus and disorganization in adults.
While more than 16 million Americans suffer from ADHD related symptoms, many go undiagnosed and struggle with school work, workplace functioning and relationships. An estimated 8.8% of children aged 4-17 have ADHD. While ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, it does not only affect children. An estimated 4.4% of adults aged 18-44 have ADHD.
There are several factors believed to contribute to ADHD:
- Genetics: Research shows that genes may be a large contributor to ADHD. ADHD often runs in families and some trends in specific brain areas that contribute to attention.
- Environmental factors: Studies show a link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy and children who have ADHD. Exposure to lead as a child has also been shown to increase the likelihood of ADHD in children.
Signs and Symptoms
ADHD is diagnosed as one of three types: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type or combined type. While some behaviors associated with ADHD are “normal” and not a cause for concern to most people, someone with ADHD will have trouble controlling these behaviors and will show them much more frequently and for longer than 6 months.
Signs of inattention
- Becoming easily distracted, and jumping from activity to activity.
- Becoming bored with a task quickly.
- Difficulty focusing attention or completing a single task or activity.
- Trouble completing or turning in homework assignments.
- Losing things such as school supplies or toys.
- Not listening or paying attention when spoken to.
- Daydreaming or wandering with lack of motivation.
- Difficulty processing information quickly.
- Struggling to follow directions.
Signs of hyperactivity
- Fidgeting and squirming, having trouble sitting still.
- Non-stop talking.
- Touching or playing with everything.
- Difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
Signs of impulsivity
- Acting without regard for consequences, blurting things out.
- Difficulty taking turns, waiting or sharing.
- Interrupting others.
ADHD occurs in both children and adults, but is most often diagnosed in childhood. Getting a diagnosis for ADHD can sometimes be difficult because the symptoms of ADHD are similar to typical behavior in most young children. Teachers are often the first to notice ADHD symptoms because they see children in a learning environment with peers every day. In adults, family members, workplace functioning and relationships can provide additional information to assist in the diagnosis of ADHD.
There is no one single test that can diagnose a child or an adult with ADHD. Diagnosis and evaluation requires a comprehensive evaluation and work up which includes medical and physical examinations, laboratory testing to identify and treat medical causes of symptoms resembling ADHD, psychological testing, collaboration of information from school, family or work environment.
With treatment, people with ADHD can be successful in school, work and lead productive lives. Researchers are using new tools such as brain imaging to better understand the condition and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent ADHD.
While there is no cure for ADHD, Pharmacological management, psychotherapy and parental education have been shown to reduce symptoms and improve overall functioning.
ADHD is managed and treated in several ways:
• Medications, including stimulants, non-stimulants and antidepressants
• Behavioral therapy
• Self-management, education programs and assistance through schools or work or alternative treatment approaches
Around two-thirds of children with ADHD also have another condition. Many adults are also impacted by the symptoms of another condition. Common conditions associated with ADHD include the following.
- Anxiety and depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance use disorders/ Dual Diagnosis
- Learning disabilities
- Oppositional defiant disorder: refusal to accept directions or authority from adults or others
- Conduct disorder, persistent destructive or violent behaviors
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Sleep disorders.