What is Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. People with ADHD experience an ongoing pattern of the following types of symptoms:
- Inattention means a person may have difficulty staying on task, sustaining focus, and staying organized, and these problems are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension.
- Hyperactivity means a person may seem to move about constantly, including in situations when it is not appropriate, or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. In adults, hyperactivity may mean extreme restlessness or talking too much.
- Impulsivity means a person may act without thinking or have difficulty with self-control. Impulsivity could also include a desire for immediate rewards or the inability to delay gratification. An impulsive person may interrupt others or make important decisions without considering long-term consequences.
What are the signs of ADHD?
Some people with ADHD only experience inattentiveness, while others may have more pronounced symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity. Some people have both types.
People with symptoms of inattention may often:
- Overlook or miss details and make seemingly careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities
- Have difficulty sustaining attention during play or tasks, such as conversations, lectures, or lengthy reading
- Not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Find it hard to follow through on instructions or finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace, or may start tasks but lose focus and get easily sidetracked
- Have difficulty organizing tasks and activities, doing tasks in sequence, keeping materials and belongings in order, managing time, and meeting deadlines
- Avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as homework, or for teens and older adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers
- Lose things necessary for tasks or activities, such as school supplies, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, and cell phones
- Be easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
- Be forgetful in daily activities, such as chores, errands, returning calls, and keeping appointments
People with symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity may often:
- Fidget and squirm while seated
- Leave their seats in situations when staying seated is expected, such as in the classroom or the office
- Run, dash around, or climb at inappropriate times or, in teens and adults, often feel restless
- Be unable to play or engage in hobbies quietly
- Be constantly in motion or on the go, or act as if driven by a motor
- Talk excessively
- Answer questions before they are fully asked, finish other people’s sentences, or speak without waiting for a turn in a conversation
- Have difficulty waiting one’s turn
- Interrupt or intrude on others, for example in conversations, games, or activities
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 typical development for their age. Stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and other physical conditions or illnesses can cause similar symptoms to those of ADHD. Therefore, a thorough evaluation is necessary to determine the cause of the symptoms.
ADHD symptoms can appear as early as between the ages of 3 and 6 and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD can be mistaken for emotional or disciplinary problems or missed entirely in children who primarily have symptoms of inattention, leading to a delay in diagnosis. Adults with undiagnosed ADHD may have a history of poor academic performance, problems at work, or difficult or failed relationships.
ADHD symptoms can change over time as a person ages. In young children with ADHD, hyperactivity-impulsivity is the most predominant symptom. As a child reaches elementary school, the symptom of inattention may become more prominent and cause the child to struggle academically. In adolescence, hyperactivity seems to lessen and symptoms may more likely include feelings of restlessness or fidgeting, but inattention and impulsivity may remain. Many adolescents with ADHD also struggle with relationships and antisocial behaviors. Inattention, restlessness, and impulsivity tend to persist into adulthood.
How is ADHD treated?
While there is no cure for ADHD, currently available treatments may reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, education, or a combination of treatments.
For people diagnosed with ADHD, often medications work to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve one’s ability to focus, work, and learn. Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are commonly prescribed and considered safe. But for those who would prefer a non-stimulant route, there are other options available that you can discuss with your doctor.
Therapy has been shown to help individuals with ADHD and their families manage symptoms and improve everyday functioning. Mental health professionals can educate parents about ADHD and how it affects a family. They also will help the child and his or her parents develop new skills, attitudes, and ways of relating to each other. Stress management techniques can benefit parents of children with ADHD by increasing their ability to deal with frustration so that they can respond calmly to their child’s behavior.
If you would like to know more about how therapy could benefit you, or someone you love, contact us today.