Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is considered a neurobehavioral condition, which involves regular episodes of impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, or difficulties sustaining attention. In some cases, it is a combination of all the above.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10.2 percent of children in the United States aged between 4 and 17 years were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2014.
Although the condition is associated with children, adults also have ADHD. In fact, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), about two-thirds of children in the U.S. who have ADHD do not outgrow the condition and still have challenges into adulthood.
Additionally, some children have mild symptoms of ADHD that are not diagnosed until adulthood. At this stage, the competing demands of adult life may overwhelm a person's ability to compensate as they may have done in childhood.
Researchers are not entirely clear why some children develop ADHD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), a family history of the disorder, being born prematurely, and prenatal exposure to nicotine and alcohol may increase a child's risk of developing ADHD.
According to the CDC, there are three main types of ADHD, which are based on the main characteristics and symptoms the person has.
It is helpful to understand that there can be overlap between each type.
The three main types of ADHD are:
- Predominately inattentive ADHD
- Predominately hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
- Combination ADHD
Although every person with ADHD presents differently, there are some common signs and symptoms associated with each of the three types.
Predominately inattentive ADHD
Children and adults with this type of ADHD are often easily distracted and have trouble completing tasks and following directions. They may also process information slowly.
Other main signs and symptoms include:
- Trouble maintaining attention
- Problems listening
- Becoming distracted frequently and the inability to follow through with tasks
- Getting bored quickly
- Losing things needed to complete tasks
- Missing details and possibly making careless mistakes
- Reluctance to complete work that takes mental effort, such as homework
- Problems organizing activities
Predominately hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
People with this type of ADHD are overactive and may do things without thinking about the consequences. They may also have difficulties staying focused and paying attention.
Other main signs and symptoms include:
- Difficulty remaining seated when required to do so, such as in school
- Interrupting often
- Feeling restless; younger children may run around inappropriately
- Always being on the move
- Constant talking
- Difficulty taking turns
- Fidgeting or squirming often
- Frequently unable to participate in quiet activities
Children with this type of ADHD may have difficulty in the classroom because of their impulsive nature and their inability to sit still.
Individuals with combination ADHD have equal characteristics of both hyperactive-impulsive ADHD and inattentive ADHD.
Although most people, especially children, may have some impulsivity and trouble staying focused, it is more significant in people with ADHD. The symptoms occur more often and interfere with the person's ability to function properly in school, work, or even socially.
If anyone thinks they have symptoms of ADHD or has a child that they think may have ADHD, they should see their doctor. An accurate diagnosis allows for appropriate treatment to be started.
To diagnose ADHD, a person must show a regular pattern of behavior of hyperactivity or inattention that interferes with functioning. There is not one specific test to determine if a person has ADHD, but specific criteria have been developed to diagnose the condition.
It is important that a specialist practitioner, such as a psychologist or a pediatrician, makes any diagnosis for ADHD. The doctor will make a judgment based on the guidelines outlined in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
For a child or teenager 16 years or younger to be diagnosed with any type of ADHD, they must have at least six of the nine main symptoms. Teenagers 17 years and older, as well as adults, must have five or more symptoms, which have been present before age 12.
Symptoms should be present for a minimum of 6 months and be inappropriate for the child's development level. Doctors also consider whether symptoms are present in two or more environments, such as at home and school, and whether they interfere with normal functioning.
Although there is no cure for any type of ADHD, treatment can help decrease symptoms and help both children and adults deal effectively with the condition.
Treatment for people with ADHD may vary based on a few different factors, such as the severity of symptoms, the person's age, and the type of ADHD they have.
Medications used to treat children with all types of ADHD may include different classifications of drugs. For instance, stimulants are sometimes recommended. Many people would assume that using stimulants would make the problem worse, but in children with ADHD, the medications have the opposite effect and may be calming.
Nonstimulant medications may also be used, but they tend not to be as effective. In some cases, antidepressants may also be prescribed to decrease symptoms of ADHD.
Medications for ADHD can have side effects. In fact, the APA recommend the use of behavior therapy as the first line of treatment before considering medications, especially in children under the age of 6 years.
Although variations in treatment may occur, typical treatments for people with inattentive ADHD include behavioral therapy and medication to improve concentration.
Behavioral therapy is also very helpful for parents because it helps them to better understand the disorder. It also teaches new ways to deal with the challenges and difficulties their child experiences.
Behavioral therapy for inattentive ADHD
In children with inattentive ADHD, the therapy can help decrease or eliminate unwanted behavior and reinforce positive behavior. For instance, therapy may involve developing strategies to organize work or school projects, such as breaking up tasks into small steps.
Reducing the amount of distractions may also help children with inattentive ADHD. For example, children with inattentive ADHD should not sit by the door or window in class as they may get distracted easily.
Behavioral therapy for hyperactive ADHD
Behavioral therapy and medication are also often used to treat people with hyperactive ADHD. The strategies used may differ, however.
Therapy for children and adults with hyperactive ADHD may involve recognizing hyperactive behaviors and developing ways to self-sooth. People with hyperactive ADHD may also be taught how to express themselves in more appropriate ways.
Tips for caregivers
Regardless of the type of ADHD a child has, there are several things teachers, parents, and caregivers can do to help children with ADHD, including:
- Developing a routine that helps a child know what to expect
- Giving clear instructions
- Considering a reward system for a job well done and positive behaviors
- Using homework organizers to keep track of school assignments
- Allowing plenty of time for physical activity and exercise
Caregivers should also avoid offering too many choices. Children with ADHD may get overwhelmed easily. For example, they can consider limiting options to two choices when offering lunch or what to wear.