ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Often times a child who doesn’t pay attention or blurts out answers before it’s his turn to talk is considered badly behaved or to lack discipline. When the behavior becomes constant and out of the child’s control, to the point where it causes difficulty at school, at home, or with friends, ADHD might be the real reason behind his actions. Affecting about 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood. However, ADHD usually persists throughout a person’s lifetime and it is not limited to children. Read on to learn more.
Definition of ADHD
ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child’s age and development.
Types of ADHD
There are three types of ADHD.[2,3]
Predominantly inattentive: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines. This type of ADHD was in the past called ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long enough to finish a meal or homework. Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity (i.e., may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times.) It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
Combined: Six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present. Most children have the combined type of ADHD.
Signs & Symptoms of ADHD
While it’s normal for children to have trouble focusing or behaving from time to time, children with ADHD do not grow out of the behavior. The severity of AD/HD symptoms varies from person to person. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, some common symptoms of ADHD include:[3,4]
- Have a hard time paying attention or daydream a lot
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often fails to follow instructions carefully and completely
- Losing or forgetting important things
- Be in constant motion (unable to stay seated, fidgeting with hands or feet, squirming,)
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out answers before hearing the whole question
- Not be able to play quietly
- Have trouble taking turns
Causes of ADHD
Like many illnesses, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors including the following:
Genes. ADHD is very likely caused by biological factors which influence neurotransmitter activity in certain parts of the brain, and which have a strong genetic basis. Studies at NIMH have shown a link between a person’s ability to pay continued attention and the level of activity in the brain. It appears from this research that a lower level of activity in some parts of the brain may cause inattention and other ADHD symptoms.
Environment. Some studies show a potential link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy and ADHD in children.[5,6] There is also information linking children who have been exposed to high levels of lead may have a higher risk of developing ADHD.
Brain injuries. Children who have suffered a brain injury may show some behaviors similar to those of ADHD. However, only a small percentage of children with ADHD have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Keep in mind that ADHD is not caused by poor parenting, family problems, poor teachers or schools, too much TV, food allergies, or excess sugar. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health concluded that the theory of refined sugar and food additives making children hyperactive and inattentive may apply to only about 5 percent of children with ADHD, mostly either very young children or children with food allergies.
Treatments for ADHD
A combination of medication used to help normalize brain activity, as well as therapy or counseling to learn coping skills and adaptive behaviors is usually used to treat ADHD.
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Attention deficient hyperactivity disorder. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002518/.
- Attention Deficient Disorder Association. Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder Fact Sheet. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from http://www.add.org/?page=ADHD_Fact_Sheet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Attention-Deficient/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Retrieved January 30, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/adhd/facts.html.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Retried January 30, 2013, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/complete-index.shtml.
- Linnet KM, Dalsgaard S, Obel C, Wisborg K, Henriksen TB, Rodriguez A, Kotimaa A, Moilanen I, Thomsen PH, Olsen J, Jarvelin MR. Maternal lifestyle factors in pregnancy risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and associated behaviors: review of the current evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2003 Jun; 160(6):1028-1040.
- Mick E, Biederman J, Faraone SV, Sayer J, Kleinman S. Case-control study of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and maternal smoking, alcohol use, and drug use during pregnancy. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2002 Apr; 41(4):378-385.
- Braun J, Kahn RS, Froehlich T, Auinger P, Lanphear BP. Exposures to environmental toxicants and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in U.S. children. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2006 Dec; 114(12):1904-1909.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor