Overview and Facts
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is a disorder in which a person has trouble staying focused and paying attention. Also known as hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder (ADD), ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and it can continue throughout adolescence and even into adulthood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3-5% of children have ADD/ADHD. New studies also show that while it was initially thought of as just a childhood disorder, it is growing more common in adults than previously thought. Similar to children, adults with attention deficit disorder have trouble focusing, however, adult ADHD symptoms are typically related to time management, goal setting and organizational skills.
Signs and Symptoms
For children, many symptoms of ADD are behaviors that are generally common in children, such as problems sitting, staying focused or paying attention. In a child with ADD, however, these symptoms will be much more frequent and severe than a normal child. ADD symptoms in children can be grouped into three general categories:
Impulsivity. A children with ADD…
- may interrupt others when they are speaking
- has trouble waiting for a turn
- shouts answers to a question before it is completed
Inattention. A children with ADD…
- has difficulty following directions
- does not usually finish tasks
- does a lot of daydreaming
- has issues remembering daily activities
- does not appear to be listening
- does not usually like having to sit still
- loses things often
Hyperactivity. A children with ADD…
- tends to always be moving
- often squirms or fidgets
- cannot stay seated
- has trouble playing quietly
- talks a lot
- poor organizational skills
- frequent procrastination
- difficulty concentrating
- chronic lateness
- low self-esteem
- mood swings
- relationship problems
Causes and Diagnosis
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. Many studies point to genetics having a strong role, however there are certain cases in which there is no genetic link. ADHD likely occurs as a result of many different factors, in addition to genetics.
Scientists think that genes that control the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain are different in those with ADHD. They are currently working to study those genes in the hope that one day the disorder can be prevented before symptoms develop. Also, if one or both parents have ADHD, their children are more likely to be diagnosed with it as well.
Because ADHD has been found in children whose mothers drank alcohol or smoked during pregnancy, there is a potential link. Also, preschool-aged children who have been exposed to high levels of lead may be at a higher risk of developing ADHD when they get older.
Children who suffer from a brain or severe head injury may start to show behaviors similar to those of ADHD. But, there is not a direct relationship as only a small percentage of children who do have ADHD suffered some type of traumatic brain injury.
There is no test for ADD in children. A licensed health professional must do a complete evaluation in order to diagnose ADD in children.
While ADD always begins in childhood, sometimes it is not even diagnosed until adulthood. There is no test for ADD in adults either — a mental health professional will do the same type of thorough evaluation, just as they would do for children. For adults, however, the professional must consider a wider range of symptoms, since ADD symptoms in adults are typically not as clear as they are in children.
In order to be diagnosed with adult ADD, an adult must have experienced the onset of ADD symptoms in childhood and they must have stayed throughout adulthood. There are rating scales that health professionals use to determine if an adult meets the criteria of ADHD. The person’s history of behaviors and experiences will also be taken into consideration and may also include interviews with close friends, spouse, relatives or work associates. Physical examination and psychological tests are typically also part of an adult ADD diagnosis.
Tests and Treatment Options
Treatment for ADD focuses on reducing and controlling the ADHD symptoms and improving the ability of the person to function in school, at home, work and in social environments. ADHD treatment usually consists of ADHD medications, various types of psychotherapy or a combination of both. Most agree that a multidisciplinary approach to treating ADD is most effective.
Medication: The most common ADD medication is a stimulant, which, despite its name, can have a calming effect on children with ADD. Medications can come in different forms, such as pills, liquids, capsules or skin patches. Common ADD medications prescribed to control symptoms are:
Not all medications will work for all children. Parents and doctors should work together to decide which medication is best for the child and what the best time to give the medication is, too, as ADD drugs may have side effects such as decreased appetite, headaches, acne and more.
Psychotherapy: Different types of psychotherapy may be used to treat ADD. Behavioral therapy, which aims to help a child change his or her behavior, is common. It can also teach a child to monitor his or her own behavior. Therapists may also teach children skills such as sharing, asking for help or waiting their turn.
For adults, treatment is similar to children in that a combination of medication and therapy is usually used. Not all medications that are right for children will work for adults. Some adults who have other conditions such as diabetes may not be able to take certain ADD medications, because some stimulants act badly with the medications associated with other diseases. In terms of therapy, a health professional might teach the adult suffering from ADD organizational skills with tools such as lists, reminders and calendars. Cognitive behavioral therapy can change an adult’s poor self-image by teaching the adult and examine the experiences that are associated with ADD.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Parents can do a great deal to help their children who suffer from ADD. These children need guidance to succeed and reach their full potential in school. Mental health professionals can help educate parents of children with ADD and show them new skills and ways of interacting with each other.
Sometimes, it helps to have the whole family attend a therapy session. Therapists can help family members find better ways to handle behaviors that are disruptive and encourage changes in a child’s behavior.
Tips to help kids stay organized:
- Keep a routine – maintaining a set schedule every day can help kids be more organized. This includes the same wake-up time and bedtime, plus time for homework and activities/play
- Organize things – keep everyday items in the same place, including toys, clothing and other items
- Give praise – when children do something positive such as follow a rule, praise them. Keep an eye out for good behavior and continue to reinforce it in a positive way