ADHD – What is Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (better known as ADHD) is a behavioural condition that is being seen more frequently in media and headlines. Some one-and-a-half million people with the condition live in the UK, but a distinct minority have an official diagnosis. Despite this, ADHD is a condition about which many misconceptions exist. This article will give an overview of what ADHD is, its symptoms, and some basic information about how the condition is diagnosed and treated.

Symptoms of ADHD

As mentioned, ADHD is a behavioural condition that seems to be linked mainly to genetics, changes in brain structure, and brain injury (either pre or post-birth). In addition, being born prematurely or at a low weight seems to have a link too.

The condition is often associated with children, which is because it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 6 and 12 (primarily because this is the time children are starting to attend schools or changing environments). However, whilst many experience improvements as they age, a lot of adults still suffer from the condition.

The main symptoms are split into two different groups: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity & impulsiveness. Technically, if a person only suffers from the inattentiveness then they are characterised as having Attention Deficit Disorder as the hyperactivity is not a problem they suffer from. Inattentiveness can occur in school or at home, and is well-defined as having the following signs:

  • Having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Appearing forgetful or losing things
  • Being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • Appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • Constantly changing activity or task
  • Having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity & impulsiveness can also occur in both school or at home, and typically results in the child developing significant problems in regards to social interaction, discipline, and underachievement in an academic setting. The symptoms associated with hyperactivity & impulsiveness include:

  • Being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • Constantly fidgeting
  • Being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • Excessive physical movement
  • Excessive talking
  • Being unable to wait their turn in activities
  • Acting without thinking
  • Interrupting conversations
  • Little or no sense of danger

Secondary symptoms can result from the primary symptoms outlined above. For example, it is not uncommon for children with ADHD to also suffer from anxiety or depression due to the social problems that ADHD unfortunately nearly always causes.

When it comes to adults, the symptoms of ADHD are slightly different as well as poorly understood due to a lack of specific research. As a developmental disorder, it cannot just appear in adulthood without being present in childhood; the symptoms will have persisted through the teenage years. Around 65% of people who had ADHD as children will still have symptoms affecting their daily lives by the time they reach 25, but these symptoms often switch to having a higher focus on inattentiveness. Whilst it is by no means an exhaustive list, many specialists tend to cite this as a list of symptoms of ADHD in adults:

  • Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
  • Poor organisational skills
  • Inability to focus or prioritise
  • Continually losing or misplacing things
  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness and edginess
  • Difficulty keeping quiet
  • Speaking out of turn
  • Interrupting others
  • Mood swings, irritability and quick temper
  • Poor ability to deal with stress
  • Extreme impatience
  • Taking risks in activities

Diagnosing ADHD

If you believe your child (or yourself) have ADHD, then the correct thing to do is visit your GP. Speaking with your child’s teacher is also recommended, since they will have a better insight into how your child behaves at school and might be able to point out specific areas of concern. Your GP can then give a referral to a specialist, but you will typically be asked about things such as family history of ADHD before this is done.

Adults will be referred if their symptoms have been ongoing since childhood, and cannot be explained by another mental health condition. The appointment with the specialist will typically involve a physical examination to try and rule out other causes, and a series of interviews with teachers, partners, and parents to assess what exactly the person’s behaviour is like.

In a child, various criteria have to be met. For example, the symptoms have to be present in more than one environment in order to determine that the child is not just reacting to particular teachers or adults. The symptoms have to have been present for 6 months continuously, and have manifested before the age of 12.

For adults, because of the confusion about what should constitute a proper diagnosis, a diagnosis may be given if 5 or more symptoms of either inattentiveness or hyperactivity & impulsiveness are found; factors such as work performance, dangerous driving, and relationship difficulties are also considered.

Treating ADHD

ADHD is mainly treated through one of two methods (although occasionally diet regiments and supplement courses may be offered instead): medication and therapy.

Medication is not a permanent solution, but is instead intended to combat some of the symptoms of ADHD. They typically help a patient feel less stressed, focus better on tasks, and be generally less impulsive. Treatment breaks are given as part of the course of medication in order to assess if the condition is getting better on its own, and you may be recommended to only have the medicines taken on school or work days. The medication used to treat ADHD can have some semi-serious side effects depending on the type being used, so always follow whatever advice is given by the specialist.

Therapies normally take one of three forms. Behaviour therapies are a method of support given to teachers and parents wherein a system of rewards is used to encourage a child to try and better control their behaviour.

Parent Training and Education Programmes can be given to show you how to talk, play, and learn in ways that improve the behaviour and attention of people with ADHD. Tutorcare offer an online Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness course that carers and patients can benefit from.

Finally, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be given to try and help a patient change their way of thinking, which typically leads to a change in their behaviour too. Ordinarily, a combination of both therapy and medication will be given.

Further reading

The NHS website has lots of information about ADHD: This website is designed to give information and advice to those living with ADHD, their parents, and their teachers: