Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which a person has trouble paying attention, has trouble sitting still, and tends to act impulsively. It is one of the most common mental health issues affecting children, and affects many adults as well.
There are three types of ADHD. Inattentive ADHD is marked by symptoms of inattention, as the name implies. Those who struggle with Inattentive ADHD are easily distracted. They have a hard time focusing on any one task, including conversations, and may appear forgetful. They struggle to attend to details and may make careless errors and mistakes. They may find it hard to organize and to finish tasks, and may jump from one activity or project to the next, without completing any of them. They frequently lose things, such as keys, phone, and wallet, and forget to follow through with daily tasks, such as chores, errands, and paying bills. Inattentive ADHD can be easily overlooked, particularly during childhood, because the child may sit quietly and appear to be engaged, though he/she is not really able to focus.
Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD is marked by trouble sitting still for even a short period of time. Children may squirm, fidget, or run around at the wrong times. They may not be able to wait their turn or share, and may interrupt conversations, blurt out answers, and take over what others are doing. Teens and adults may feel restless and fidgety. Those with Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD may find it difficult to enjoy quiet activities. They may talk too loud, laugh too loud, or become angrier than the situation calls for. They may make impulsive decisions that are not in their best interest.
ADHD, Combined Type is marked by symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, as described above.
ADHD interferes with work, school, and life at home. Children may be disruptive, defiant, and difficult to manage. They may have trouble getting along with parents, teachers and peers. Adults may spend too much money or change jobs often. Some who struggle with ADHD might also experience Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD), or extreme sensitivity to what others think or say about them. Those with RSD react with emotional intensity when they feel criticized or rejected. ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but may not get identified until adulthood. Many adults don't realize that they have ADHD until their children are diagnosed; then, they begin to notice their own symptoms.
Research has shown that ADHD is a neurobehavioral, or brain-based condition. Certain brain structures are smaller in children with ADHD than in children without ADHD. Some of these differences may diminish as a child matures, though remain prevalent through childhood and adolescence. In addition, certain brain networks that assist in focus, planning and attention work differently in people with ADHD, and neurotransmitter levels differ for those who struggle with ADHD.
Scientists have determined that genetic factors play a role in ADHD; one is at greater risk for ADHD if they have a first degree relative who has ADHD. In addition, exposure to environmental toxins, such as pesticides and lead, prenatal alcohol and cigarette use, and premature birth all place one at greater risk for ADHD. Parenting does not cause ADHD, though parenting style can impact the behavior of children who suffer from ADHD.
There is no cure for ADHD. However, there are treatments that help with symptom management and with the development of coping resources to work around difficulties. With treatment, those who suffer from ADHD can lead productive and meaningful lives. Medication and behavioral therapies are both widely used in the treatment of ADHD. Medication helps in the control of symptoms, whereas behavioral therapies address the challenges that arise as a result of ADHD, such as helping to build coping skills and break negative habits and thought patterns. The most effective treatment is often a mix of medication and behavior therapy.
Stimulants are the most commonly used ADHD medications. Non-stimulant medication and some antidepressants can be used for those who don’t respond well to stimulants. It is important to work closely with a medical provider to determine the most appropriate medication choice and dose, and to track for any negative side effects.
Behavioral therapy often includes parent training, individual therapy, and family therapy. Parents learn the importance of responding to their child’s negative behavior consistently, and without anger or shame. Parents and therapists work together to help teach children the skills they need to mitigate the effects of ADHD, such as time management, organization, and positive social skills. Older children and adults benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helping them manage strong emotions and confront negative thought patterns. For most, ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood. Developing skills for navigating the various life stages with ADHD is an ongoing and important aspect of treatment.
Though lifestyle choices don’t cure ADHD, in conjunction with formal treatment, adopting healthy habits can help to temper ADHD symptoms. Symptoms are more easily managed in those who get regular exercise, engage in mindfulness practices, and maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Those who struggle with ADHD often have trouble sleeping, and poor sleep can undoubtedly make symptoms worse. Developing strategies that promote adequate, restful sleep is valuable.
Those with ADHD are often very creative and curious. They love to ask questions and to learn new things. Harnessing this creativity and curiosity, while exploring strengths, talents and interests, is an extremely important aspect of successful development and of living with ADHD. Parents serve a vital function in navigating this with their children, helping to pave the way for long-term personal and professional success.