Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders. ADHD is a broad term, and the condition can vary from person to person. There are an estimated 6.4 million diagnosed children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This condition is sometimes called attention deficit disorder (ADD), but this is an outdated term. The term was once used to refer to someone who had trouble focusing but was not hyperactive. The American Psychiatric Association released the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in May 2013. The DSM-5 changed the criteria to diagnose someone with ADHD.
Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) both affect people’s ability to stay focused on things like schoolwork, social interactions, and everyday activities like brushing teeth and getting dressed.
The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that kids with ADHD are hyperactive. They have trouble sitting still and might be so restless that teachers quickly notice their rambunctious behavior and suspect there might be attention issues involved. On the other hand, kids with ADD might fly under the radar because they aren’t bursting with energy and disrupting the classroom. Instead, they often appear shy, “daydreamy” or off in their own world.
Technically, ADD is one of three subtypes of ADHD. The term ADD is still used by many parents and teachers. But since 1994, doctors have been calling it by its formal name: ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. The other two subtypes are ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type; and ADHD, Combined Type, which involves both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms.
Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD may have trouble finishing tasks or following directions. They tend to be sluggish and slow to respond and process information. It’s often difficult for them to sift through relevant and irrelevant information. They may be easily distracted and appear forgetful or careless.
Understanding the challenges of ADHD allows you to find the best help possible for your child. This overview can answer many of your questions about ADHD, no matter where you are on your journey. It provides basic information to get you started. But you’ll also find more in-depth information, tips and expert insight.
The exact cause of ADHD is not known, although researchers continue to study the brain for clues. There are no laboratory tests for ADHD.
The diagnosis is made based on the child’s symptoms and behavior. Healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians and child psychologists can diagnose ADHD with the help of standard guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The doctor may ask for input from the child’s parents, teachers, and other adults who are familiar with the child’s symptoms.
Treatment for ADHD is multifaceted. It consists of ADHD medications or behavioral modification therapy or both. Studies have established the safety and effectiveness of using stimulant medicatios, other drugs, and behavioral therapy.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Most commonly referred to as ADD (attention deficit disorder), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis applied to children and adults who consistently display inattentive or impulsive behaviors over a period of time. While most people will exhibit some of these signs on occasion, it is not to the degree where such behaviors significantly interfere with work, relationships, or studies.
- Easily distracted
- Flit from task to task
- Slow to complete school work and forget instructions.
- Inattentiveness can be confusing because of its selectivity. The child who is extremely inattentive while doing schoolwork may be fully focused when playing video games, carrying out practical procedures or when being tested by a psychologist.
- Inattention to verbal instructions and a short-term memory are also associational problems.
- “shooting from the hip” both verbally and physically.
- They talk over the top of others
- Tend to be accident-prone and have very short fuses
- Answer questions in class even before the question has been completed.
- Act without malice but also without forethought, which leads to problems in the playground
- Do not learn from the consequences of their behaviour
- The volatility of these children makes them prone to escalate out of control when their behaviour is handled insensitively.
- Often teachers and parents cannot understand why someone so intelligent can act so inappropriately.
- In primary school they are Restless, fidgety, have difficulty remaining seated and find it hard to stop talking.
- If they manage to stay seated, they fiddle with anything they can touch, tapping their fingers / feet, and looking around at everyone.
- In the playground, they act like they have been released from captivity.
- When they return to the classroom, they find it even more difficult to settle back in.
- In secondary school
- Some retain the high level of physical activity.
- Many will be able to remain seated for the 40-minute class and generally their hyperactivity seems to have lessened.
- They are generally still noisier and more talkative than their peers. The fiddling, scribbling and touching everything can also remain at quite a high level.
- The combination of hyperactivity with impulsiveness makes children with ADD/ADHD very difficult to manage.
Types of ADHD
Inattentive ADHD is what’s usually meant when someone uses the term ADD. This means a person shows enough symptoms of inattention (or easy distractibility) but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive.
In children, inattention manifests as careless mistakes in schoolwork, short attention span, incomplete homework, and unfinished activities. They also may not pay attention to details or listen when being spoken to directly.
In adults, the symptoms of inattention are similar, but they emerge in different ways. Adults may forget to do regular tasks, such as taking out the garbage, picking their kids up from school, or filing paperwork.
They may lose or forget things they use regularly, such as keys, phone numbers, and important papers. Adults with ADD may also have problems with self-motivation.
ADD is the non-hyperactive form of ADHD. Symptoms of ADD typically include disorganization, forgetfulness, as well as difficulty managing focus. While people with ADD often struggle to focus, it’s inaccurate to say they can’t focus, as they can become hyper-focused on subjects that are of great interest to them.
To be diagnosed with ADD, six of the following symptoms must be present and impacting school or work:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Often has difficulty sustaining attention
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish projects
- Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
- Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
Because people with ADD are not hyperactive or impulsive, they may not attract the same attention as people with hyperactive forms of ADHD. As a result, children and adults with ADD are more likely to go undiagnosed than their hyperactive-impulsive counterparts who exhibit symptoms that are more easily identifiable.
Impulsive behaviors show up in adults and children in slightly different ways. Children are often seen as rude as they blurt out answers, move to the front of a line, interrupt others, or run in front of traffic without looking.
Adults may experience impulsive behaviors, such as spending money randomly, driving recklessly, or having a careless sexual life. They may also say what is on their mind without thought as to whether it is offensive or may hurt the other person’s feelings.
Children with symptoms of hyperactivity are more likely to appear “in motion” all the time. They may run, climb, and play excessively, even when it is inappropriate. In classrooms, they may get up, constantly cause distractions, and talk excessively. Children will often fidget in their seat, squirm, play with things in their hands, and have trouble sitting still.
In adults, physical signs of hyperactivity may be replaced by a feeling of constant restlessness. The hyperactivity may show up in other ways, such as constantly tapping their feet, playing with a pencil, or fidgeting.
They may move from job to job at the first sign of boredom, and they may leave uninteresting projects half-finished. Adults may still find it hard to sit still for extended periods.
To be diagnosed with Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD, a child must exhibit six or more symptoms. Older teens and adults must exhibit five or more.
The symptoms are:
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
- Leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
- Runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (or, in adolescents or adults, may struggle with feelings of restlessness)
- Has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
- Appears “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out the answers before the questions have been completed
- Has difficulty awaiting turn
- Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
How You Can Help Your Child With ADHD
Raising a child with ADHD has its challenges (and its rewards). But there are ways you can support your child and help build vital skills. You can also help improve your child’s self-esteem and resilience.
Your child can learn to manage some of the symptoms of ADHD and succeed. Here are just some things you can do to help:
- Understand what ADHD is and what it isn’t.
- Discover simple ways to improve your child’s focus.
- Find a fidget that fits your child’s needs.
- Get tips for helping your child follow directions.
- Give your child chores that are good for kids with focus issues.
- Help your child manage screen time and cell phone use.
- Check out a teacher tip for helping kids pay attention.
- Help your child learn to manage anger and frustration.
- Find ways to help your child slow down on homework.
- For more ideas, explore this collection of ADHD strategies to try at home.
Attention is a cognitive skill that can be strengthened
There is a set of foundational cognitive skills our brains use every day to think, learn, and perform—and attention is one of these skills. (Other cognitive skills include long-term memory, short term memory, auditory processing, visual processing, logic & reasoning, and processing speed).
What many people don’t realize is that these skills can be strengthened with intense mental exercise. Brain training, a form of cognitive training, uses challenging mental exercises, done one-on-one with a personal brain trainer, to target and strengthen cognitive skills.
LearningRx, the largest one-on-one brain training company in the world, does not diagnose or treat ADD or ADHD. But their programs have strengthened cognitive skills—including the skill of attention—for people with various diagnoses, including ADD/ADHD.
LearningRx brain training programs team clients with brain trainers for about an hour day for 12 to 32 weeks. Because the improvements are lasting, clients typically do not need to continue with training after the initial program.
ADHD and your family
Before you can successfully parent a child with ADHD, it’s essential to understand the impact of your child’s symptoms on the family as a whole. Children with ADHD exhibit a slew of behaviors that can disrupt family life:
- They often don’t “hear” parental instructions, so they don’t obey them.
- They’re disorganized and easily distracted, keeping other family members waiting. Or they start projects and forget to finish them—let alone clean up after them.
- Children with impulsivity issues often interrupt conversations, demand attention at inappropriate times, and speak before they think, saying tactless or embarrassing things.
- It’s often difficult to get them to bed and to sleep.
- Hyperactive children may tear around the house or even do things that put them in physical danger.
The impact of ADHD on siblings
Because of these behaviors, siblings of children with ADHD face a number of challenges:
- Their needs often get less attention than those of the child with ADHD.
- They may be rebuked more sharply when they err, and their successes may be less celebrated or taken for granted.
- They may be enlisted as assistant parents—and blamed if the sibling with ADHD misbehaves under their supervision.
- As a result, siblings may find their love for a brother or sister with ADHD mixed with jealousy and resentment.
The impact of ADHD on parents
The demands of monitoring a child with ADHD can be physically and mentally exhausting. Your child’s inability to “listen” can lead to frustration and that frustration to anger—followed by guilt about being angry at your child. Your child’s behavior can make you anxious and stressed and if there’s a basic difference between your personality and that of your child with ADHD, his or her behavior can be especially difficult to accept.
In order to meet the challenges of raising a child with ADHD, you must to be able to master a combination of compassion and consistency. Living in a home that provides both love and structure is the best thing for a child or teenager who is learning to manage ADHD.
What are the Effects of ADHD?
Women with undiagnosed ADHD may experience more intense symptoms of other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
ADHD can produce a number of adverse effects in a person that may disrupt both personal and work or school relationships. Unaddressed ADHD can be associated with the development of addictive disorders, particularly if the sufferer attempts to ease the symptoms with drugs or alcohol.
Common effects of ADD include:
- low self-esteem
- social anxiety, which may progress to a full blown anxiety disorder
- self-mutilation or self- harming behaviors
- and attempts to self-medicate using drugs, alcohol, or binge eating
What are the Most Common Misconceptions About ADHD?
ADHD / ADD is not a real disorder
Studies over the last nine decades have consistently identified a condition causing individuals to have trouble with concentration, impulse control, and in some cases, hyperactivity. While the name given to this condition and our understanding of it has changed a number of times over the decades, the symptoms described have remained consistent. Currently called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, this syndrome has been recognized as a disability by the courts, the United States Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights, the United States Congress, the National Institutes of Health, and all major professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, and educational associations.
People with ADHD / ADD lack self-discipline
Skeptics often claim that suffers are making excuses rather than taking responsibility for their actions, which belies the serious consequences of untreated cases. Those undergoing treatment for ADHD / ADD are routinely taught that ADHD / ADD is a challenge, not an excuse. Treatment helps correct underlying issues, giving sufferers a fair chance of facing the challenges of being productive citizens on a more leveled playing field.
ADHD / ADD is caused by bad parenting
A persistent attitude holds that child misbehavior is a moral problem, and that the child has not been taught proper behavior. This may be worsened by the fact that ADHD tends to run in families. About one in four children with ADHD have at least one relative with the disorder.
Under this model, the recommended approach has been to resort to disciplinary actions, including corporal punishment (spankings, beatings). However it has been demonstrated that simply providing more discipline without any other type of intervention worsens rather than improves the behavior of those with ADHD, in fact it can be traumatizing and lead to feelings of shame. The resulting damage to self-esteem can be a primary trigger for abuse of alcohol and other prescription or illicit drugs, or an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.
ADHD is a serious psychiatric disorder that can cause life-altering complications if not treated effectively by a medical professional. Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a leader in helping women and adolescent girls with ADHD overcome eating disorders, substance abuse and drug addiction, and other co-occurring disorders. Read more about our ADHD treatment program.
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