ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders
and is characterized by difficulty paying attention and staying focused, impulsivity (difficulty controlling behavior), and hyperactivity. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a brain condition that can continue through adolescence and adulthood. It is usually first diagnosed in school-aged children when they have problems with schoolwork or cause disruption in the classroom. While some children seem to either outgrow the disorder or learn to live with and compensate for the symptoms, others do not. Approximately five percent of children in the U.S. suffer from ADHD.
The number of adults in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with ADHD is lower (2.5%) and that may be because getting an accurate diagnosis can be tricky. It was only in the 1980’s that mental health professionals realized ADHD could persist in adults. Some adults who are not treated may experience negative consequences such as a higher incidence of substance abuse, more automobile accidents, and difficulties with their careers and personal lives. However, many who have the disorder have developed skills to compensate for their distractibility.
ADHD or ADD?
ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is the term now used for a condition that has had several names. Science recognizes three subtypes of ADHD: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominately inattentive, and combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. A diagnosis of one type or the other depends on specific symptoms. Some people, including many professionals, may still refer to the condition as ADD (attention deficit disorder), but this term is no longer in widespread use. (Those who have been diagnosed with ADD would be considered “ADHD, predominantly inattentive type.”)
Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main symptoms of ADHD. While all children can have these symptoms at one time or another, they occur more often and are more severe in children with ADHD. To be diagnosed with the disorder, symptoms must be present for six or more months and to a greater degree than in other children of the same age:
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty focusing on one thing
- Become quickly bored with a task
- Inattentiveness and not seeming to listen when spoken to
- Daydreaming, confusion and moving slowly
- Difficulty following instructions
- Hyperactivity – fidgeting and squirming, nonstop talking, constantly in motion
- Very impatient
Sometimes, children with symptoms of inattention are not correctly diagnosed because they are often quiet and less likely to act out. Also, children who are hyperactive and impulsive can be thought to simply have emotional or disciplinary problems.
ADHD Symptoms in Adults
ADHD can continue into adulthood and many adults who have the disorder don’t know it. Even daily tasks such as getting up in the morning and getting ready for work can be challenging for them.
- Easily distracted; try to do several things at once
- Problems at work (difficulty being productive and being on time)
- Difficult or failed relationships
- Multiple traffic accidents
- Difficulty remembering and keeping appointments
- Prefer “quick fixes” instead of taking necessary steps to achieve greater rewards
Studies have suggested that genetics play a role in ADHD, but there is not a definitive answer. Like many illnesses, there are probably a combination of contributing factors.
- Genetics – Some research has shown that ADHD often runs in families and researchers are looking at several genes to pinpoint the ones involved in developing the disorder.
- Environmental factors – Studies suggest a possible link between the use of alcohol and cigarettes during pregnancy and ADHD in children. Also, preschoolers with lead exposure may be at higher risk for developing ADHD.
- Brain injuries – The percentage of children with ADHD who have suffered a brain injury is very small; however, some may show behaviors similar to ADHD symptoms.
- Sugar – More research discounts than proves this theory, but the idea that refined sugar causes ADHD is still popular.
- Food additives – Research is ongoing to learn more about how food additives may affect hyperactivity, but there may be a link between certain additives or artificial colors and an increase in activity.
Current medications do not cure ADHD, but they can help control the symptoms so that people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Treatments include various types of psychotherapy, education or training and medication. Each treatment program should be completely individualized.
- Behavioral therapy & education – Different types of psychotherapy can be used to treat ADHD including behavioral therapy, which aims to help a child change his or her behavior. It also teaches the child to monitor his or her own behavior. Therapists may also teach children social skills. Adults may be taught organizational skills or engage in therapy to help them adjust to the life changes that come with treatment. Practical support can help both adults and children better cope with everyday problems.
- Medications – ADHD medications can control the symptoms in children; for example, they can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork by reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity. Medication may also improve physical coordination as well. These medications, including extended-release forms, are often prescribed for adults. (Not all ADHD medications are approved for use in adults.) Sometimes, antidepressants are used to treat adults, even though they are not FDA-approved specifically for the treatment of ADHD.
The most important thing in dealing with ADHD is to know that it can be mistaken for other problems; a professional diagnosis is absolutely necessary.
Effective treatments and actions can be taken to help treat this disorder. For example, learning coping skills and changing behaviors can allow patients to work around their shortcomings and harness their talents. We’ve supported many clients as they have managed ADHD!