An Overview of ADHD

In This Article

In the past, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) was considered a condition that children had and then "grew out of" before they reached adulthood. However, we now know that ADHD is a neurological condition that spans a lifetime.

The symptoms of ADHD do change with time, however. For example, childhood hyperactivity may decrease as an adult finds healthy ways to channel their energy.

Even with the shift in symptoms, ADHD can still interfere with an adult's functioning. Relationships, health, work, and finances are just a few areas of a person's life that may be impacted.

Yet, ADHD often goes undiagnosed for quite some time. Many adults, who have felt "lazy" or "scatter-brained," are surprised to learn that they have ADHD.

Whether you're a parent who suspects your child has ADHD or you've just been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, it's important to understand your symptoms, treatment options, and the best strategies for living well with ADHD.

Presentations of ADHD
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Symptoms

Signs of ADHD in children can include a wide range of academic, social, and behavior problems.

Trouble staying on task, taking a long time to complete assignments, or having difficulty sitting still are a few common symptom children exhibit.

Adults with ADHD may become bored easily, may take a long time to complete work-related tasks, and may appear to have trouble listening during conversations.

Even individuals who have already been diagnosed with ADHD sometimes struggle to recognize behaviors and issues that stem from ADHD. They may think being distracted or behaving impulsively is just part of who they are, rather than a symptom of their condition.

There are often moral judgments made around the behaviors that result from having ADHD. For example, not being able to sit still in a meeting might be called "disrespectful." A person who makes what seems like careless mistakes at school may be labeled "unmotivated."

Adults and children with ADHD may call themselves lazy or stupid, when they are neither. Understanding the subtleties of your ADHD type helps you to separate yourself from these negative comments and the shame and guilt that comes with them.

This frees you to find a proactive solution instead.

Causes and Risk Factors

While there is a strong genetic component to ADHD—researchers estimate the percentage of genetic contribution to ADHD at over 70%—it's not guaranteed that ADHD will be passed down to the next generation.

There are several other environmental risk factors that may play a role. Exposure to certain toxins such as lead, or having some specific illnesses like meningitis, for example, can also increase the chances that an individual might develop ADHD.

Additionally, poor nutrition or substance use during pregnancy may play a role in a child developing ADHD.

Diagnosis

In the past, the terms ADD and ADHD were used. But, ADD is no longer an official diagnosis.

Currently, there are three presentations of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These are:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
  • Combined presentation

These different forms of ADHD used to be called ADHD subtypes. Then, when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published in 2013, the term "subtype" was changed to "presentation." For example, a person could be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, combined presentation.

Even though the official term is now presented, many people still use the terms "subtypes" and "types."

Getting diagnosed with ADHD is not as simple as having a blood test or filling out an online questionnaire. A detailed evaluation is required. This is done by a health professional who uses the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the official diagnostic guide used in the United States–to determine if you meet the criteria.

The testing is done using questionnaires, rating scales, intellectual screenings, and interviews, and by measuring sustained attention and distractibility. ADHD symptoms can look similar to other conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, learning disabilities, and sleep problems.

Therefore, an important part of the evaluation process is to determine if you have ADHD, a different condition, or ADHD and a co-existing condition, like anxiety.

Treatment

Medication is the most common way of treating ADHD. However, it is not the only way.

There is a saying: “Pills don’t teach skills.” This means that learning ADHD-friendly ways to do daily tasks is also helpful.

Many treatment plans include a combination of approaches, as each method increases the other’s effectiveness. For example, taking medication can make it easier to implement new behaviors. Here's how ADHD is most commonly treated:

  • Medication - There are two groups of medications that your doctor might prescribe: stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulants reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, and increase attention. Stimulants are often quite effective, but do come with some risks.
  • Therapy - Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be particularly effective in treating ADHD. CBT skills can help change unproductive thinking patterns and identify behavioral changes that can improve functioning.
  • Lifestyle changes - There are many other ways you can minimize the negative effects of ADHD on your life. Requesting workplace accommodations could help you become more productive. Creating checklists and getting organized could reduce the amount of time you spend looking for misplaced items. Exercising regularly might help reduce some of your symptoms.

It's important to work closely with your treatment providers to find the best treatment strategy for you.

Living With ADHD

Coming to terms with an ADHD diagnosis can stir up a variety of emotions. Knowing what to expect and how to best manage your life can be a key component in coping with the emotional roller coaster.

While ADHD isn't curable, the symptoms can usually be managed quite well. It's important to monitor your symptoms and progress so your treatment can be adjusted as needed.

It's also important to consider who should know about your diagnosis. Should you tell your friends? Does your family need to know? Should you tell your employer?

While you don't need to tell everyone in your life that you have ADHD, revealing it to key people could be instrumental in helping them understand you better. And, it may help you get the support and assistance you need to feel your best.

ADHD in Children

Raising a child with ADHD poses some extra challenges. Getting the best treatment and support can be key to managing your child's symptoms.

Treatment may involve medication. Medications can help children manage their impulses, stay focused, and avoid distractions.

In addition to medication, children with ADHD may benefit from accommodations at school. Common accommodations may include a seat near the teacher and extra time to complete assignments.

Parent training can also be an important aspect in treatment. Parent training strategies can help you learn the discipline and support strategies that best help children with ADHD manage their symptoms.

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