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What is ADHD ?

Updated: Nov 7, 2023


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurological disorder characterized by difficulties in attention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. The following blog is intended to help individuals with ADHD and their loved ones become more informed about ADHD symptoms/difficulties. This will be the first in a 3-part blog series on ADHD to help inform you about the disorder, available treatment options, and common co-occurring disorders.

What is ADHD?

The diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has undergone changes in terminology, which may be confusing to those who remember the older diagnostic classifications. In the past, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) was used to describe individuals with symptoms specific to attention problems only, whereas the label of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was used to describe individuals who struggled with both attention/concentration and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Currently, ADHD is the only diagnostic term used to describe all of these concerns and it is then specified which type of the disorder an individual experiences, either the inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or a combination of both. The following is a brief list of the DSM-5 symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

ADHD Inattentive Symptoms:

· Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes

· Difficulty sustaining attention

· Does not appear to listen

· Difficulty following instructions (especially those with multiple steps)

· Issues with organization

· Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort

· Loses things

· Easily distracted

· Forgetful in daily activities

ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive Symptoms:

· Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair

· Difficulty remaining seated

· Runs about or climbs excessively (in children), extreme restlessness (in adults)

· Difficulty engaging in activities quietly

· Acts as if driven by a motor; adults make experience this more internally

· Talks excessively

· Blurts out answers before questions have been completed

· Difficulty waiting or taking turns

· Interrupts or intrudes upon activities that others are completing

ADHD is still considered a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning that symptoms must have started in childhood. In addition, an individual with ADHD typically experiences these difficulties across multiple environments, such as school, home, with friends, work, etc.

It can often be difficult to tell whether a child is having some normative difficulties with inattention/hyperactivity that they will eventually grow out of versus those who truly have a full diagnosis of ADHD. If you are a parent who is questioning this distinction, it may be useful to consider the following:

1. Do my child’s difficulties seem to be worse than their peers?

2. Does my child constantly struggle to follow directions (even when they are happy and not having a tantrum)?

3. Do these symptoms seem to happen frequently?

4. Do these symptoms seem to happen across multiple environments or when my child is with different people?

5. Does my child become upset with themselves because they have more difficulties than others?

6. Does my child become easily distracted by little things that most other children seem to be able to ignore?

7. Have these symptoms been present more often than not for several months or years (versus only occurring sometimes or for days at a time)?

8. Are my child’s teachers consistently telling me that they have difficulty getting my child to sit still and pay attention in class?

If the answer is yes to several of these, you might consider having your child tested for ADHD.

In addition, while people think of ADHD as being a childhood disorder, research has shown that many individuals who have this disorder in childhood continue experiencing difficulties as adolescents and even adults. In addition, individuals who never received treatment in childhood tend to be at a higher risk for persistent symptoms/difficulties as adults.

If you and/or your child relate to the difficulties mentioned above, it can be useful to have a conversation with a trained professional about your concerns. Many adolescents and adults with ADHD are able to achieve success, especially after receiving ADHD treatment to help increase coping skills. Treatment considerations will be discussed in more detail in a future blog draft on ADHD treatment.

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