Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is most commonly diagnosed in young people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 9% of children between ages 3–17 have ADHD. While Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood, it does not only affect children. An estimated 4% of adults have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Common Attributes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Inattention means a person wanders off task, lacks persistence, has difficulty sustaining focus, and is disorganized; and these problems are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension.
- Hyperactivity means a person seems to move about constantly, including in situations in which it is not appropriate; or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. In adults, it may be extreme restlessness or wearing others out with constant activity.
- Impulsivity means a person makes hasty actions that occur in the moment without first thinking about them and their potential for harm; or a desire for immediate rewards or inability to delay gratification. An impulsive person may be socially intrusive and excessively interrupt others or make important decisions without considering the long-term consequences.
While some behaviors associated with ADHD are normal, 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 include:
- Becoming easily distracted, and jumping from activity to activity
- Becoming bored with a task quickly
- Difficulty focusing attention and completing tasks, activities or play; or sustaining attention to conversations, reading, lectures
- Easily distracted (by unrelated thoughts or stimuli)
- Trouble completing or turning in homework assignments
- Lack of follow through on instructions, chores, or duties in the workplace
- Starting tasks but quickly losing focus and getting easily sidetracked
- Losing things such as school supplies or toys, books, pencils, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, cell phones
- Not listening or paying attention when spoken to
- Daydreaming or wandering with lack of motivation
- Difficulty processing information quickly
- Struggling to follow directions
- Difficulty planning, organizing and following through (executive functioning)
- Overlooking or missing details, making careless mistakes – schoolwork, work, other activities
- Difficulty concentrating, keeping materials and belongings in order, maintaining an organized desk/workplace
- Poor time management and failing to meet deadlines
- Avoid or dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort – schoolwork, homework; teens and older adults – preparing reports, completing forms, reviewing lengthy papers
- Forgetful in daily activities, such as chores, errands, returning calls, and keeping appointments
Signs of hyperactivity include:
- Fidgeting, squirming, having trouble sitting still
- Leaving seats when staying seated is expected – classroom, lectures, presentations, office
- Non-stop talking
- Touching or playing with everything
- Difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities
- Running, climbing or talking loudly in inappropriate situations
- Teens and adults frequent feeling of restlessness
- Unable to play or engage in activities quietly
- Constantly “on the go,” in motion, act as if “driven by a motor”
Signs of impulsivity include:
- Acting without regard for consequences
- Blurting things out – answering before a question has been completed, finishing other people’s sentences, speaking without waiting for a turn in conversations
- Difficulty taking turns, waiting or sharing.
- Interrupting or intruding on others – conversations, games, activities, etc.
ADHD occurs in both children and adults, but is most often and 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.
There is no one single test that can diagnose a child with ADHD, so meet with a doctor or mental health professional to gather all the necessary information for a diagnosis to be made. The goal is to rule out any outside causes for symptoms, such as environmental changes, difficulty in school, medical problems and ensure that a child is otherwise healthy.
Diagnosis of ADHD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a licensed clinician, such as a pediatrician, psychologist, mental health therapist (LCSW), or psychiatrist with expertise in ADHD. For a person to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity must be chronic or long lasting, impair the person’s functioning, and cause the person to fall behind normal development for his or her age. The doctor will also ensure that any ADHD symptoms are not due to another medical or psychiatric condition. Most children with ADHD receive a diagnosis during elementary school years. For an adolescent or adult to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms need to have been present prior to age 12.
With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school, work, other life activities 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.
ADHD is managed and treated in several ways:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org)
- National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.nih.gov)
- Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR and DSM-4