What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) ?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which often becomes obvious in early childhood. The behaviours are due to underlying problems of poor attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is subdivided into primarily inattentive (this used to be called ADD) or primarily hyperactive/impulsive, some people have combined type. 

While we do not know exactly what causes ADHD, research shows that genetics play a large role. Like many other conditions, ADHD most likely results from a combination of factors added to a genetic predisposition. 

Many young children, especially under-fives, are inattentive and restless. This does not necessarily mean they are suffering from ADHD. The inattention or hyperactivity becomes a problem when they are exaggerated, compared with same aged peers and when they affect the child, their family, school and social life.

ADHD affects about 2 to 5% of school age children, boys are diagnosed more than girls. Some recent evidence suggests that girls with difficulties are more easily missed by some diagnostic processes.

Making an ADHD diagnosis requires a specialist assessment, usually carried out by a child psychiatrist or specialist paediatrician. The diagnosis is made by identifying patterns of behaviour, observing the child and obtaining reports of their behaviour at home and at school. 

Treatment and support options include looking at all situations where the difficulties occur. This means support and help at home, school, with friends and in the community.

Education for all involved with the young person is very important. Often parent and teacher training as well as education for the young person themselves can be very helpful. 

Children may need specific educational support and plans to help with their daily work in the classroom and with homework. 

Medications can have an important role in managing moderate to severe ADHD. They can help to reduce hyperactivity and improve concentration. 

Children often say that medication helps them to get on with people, to think more clearly, to understand things better and to feel more in control of themselves. Not all children with ADHD will need medication.

What are the symptoms?

ADHD can present with different behaviours depending on the age, setting (i.e. school, home, playground) and even motivation (e.g. when doing an activity or something a child likes).

Not all children have all the symptoms. This means some can just have problems with poor attention, while others are mainly hyperactive.

Children with problems of attention can appear forgetful, distracted, not seeming to listen, disorganised, take a long time to start doing tasks and can struggle to complete them.

Children with hyperactivity can seem restless, fidgety, full of energy and ‘always on the go’. They may seem loud or noisy with continuous chatter. 

Children with symptoms of impulsivity do things without thinking. They have difficulty waiting for their turn in games or in a queue, and interrupt people in conversation.

What other problems can a person with ADHD have?

Some children can have ADHD as their main or only issue, others can have additional difficulties such as learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety and depression. Neurological problems like tics, Tourette’s syndrome, and epilepsy can also be present. Children with ADHD can have problems with coordination, social skills and can seem to be disorganised.

How long will they have ADHD?

About 1 in 3 children with diagnosis of ADHD can seem to 'grow out' of their condition and not require any treatment when they are adults. The majority who receive specialist treatment tailored to their needs may benefit considerably. Many choose to have ongoing treatment as they can see the benefits. They will have been able to catch up with their learning, improve their school performance and make friends. Some people are able to cope and manage by adapting their work and home life. However, some can have ongoing problems, even as adults, requiring ongoing treatment and support.