Many of us are forgetful at times. We may have trouble paying attention, completing tasks, or staying still. We may have been told we are too impulsive, moody, or talkative. We may be concerned that something is wrong with us, and we may feel ashamed of these behaviors.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may be wondering if you have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Perhaps you are the parent or caretaker of a child who exhibits symptoms like these. You may be unsure if the symptoms you’re experiencing or observing are simple absentmindedness and restlessness, or if they meet the definition of ADHD.

What Is Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Before we answer the question “What is ADHD?” it’s important to understand that ADHD is a mental health disorder, and not a personal shortcoming. It doesn’t result from poor child rearing or an unhealthy diet. ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders in children, and is quite common in adults as well. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you have ADHD, and you are not a “bad” parent if your child has ADHD.

In a nutshell, ADHD is a mental health disorder that is characterized by three main things: an inability to pay attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, these symptoms have to be significant, long-lasting, and affect your ability to manage your work (school or employment) and behavior. ADHD is managed with a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle modifications. Treatments for ADHD are usually quite successful.

Overview Of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD remains one of the common mental health disorders, or neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. It is usually diagnosed in childhood, although some people don’t get a proper diagnosis till they are adults. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 8.4% of children have ADHD, and 2.5% of adults experience it as well. It’s more common among males than females.

As the National Institute of Mental Health explains, most ADHD symptoms in children appear between the ages of 3 and 6, and diagnosis requires a medical or psychological evaluation. For a teen or adult to be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms have to have appeared by the time they were 12, even if they weren’t diagnosed at that time.

There are three main characteristics that are present in people who have ADHD:

Inattention: This is when someone has trouble concentrating, has trouble staying on task, and finds that when they are trying to focus, their mind easily fixates on other unrelated topics. It may be difficult to complete work and stay organized. It’s important to understand that a person with ADHD doesn’t lack intelligence, and they aren’t inattentive out of spite or to be rebellious.

Hyperactivity: Many with people with ADHD may exhibit signs of hyperactivity. These can include an ability to sit still, a need to pace, fidget, or tap. This is often first noticed in situations where these behaviors are not considered inappropriate, such as during school. Adults can experience hyperactivity as well; this may look like someone who is always “on the go” or who is extremely talkative.

Impulsivity: Some people with ADHD deal with high degrees of impulsive behavior. They don’t always have the ability to think things through before making a decision. Sometimes, they may be disruptive and appear rude. This can lead to relationship problems, communication issues, as well as potential harm or injury to themselves or others.

For someone to be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms have to be persistent, long lasting, and affect someone’s ability to complete age-appropriate tasks and function normally. Treatment for ADHD usually consists of a combination of medications, counseling and behavioral management, as well as lifestyle modifications that target the challenges the person with ADHD struggles with most.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Symptoms & Behaviors

It’s important to understand that ADHD symptoms differ based on age, circumstances, temperament, and as well as any other mental health challenges a person with ADHD may also have. ADHD doesn’t always have obvious outward signs. Not everyone with ADHD appears restless or absentminded, for example. There are sometimes more subtle cases of ADHD in people with quieter personalities that may go unnoticed, but result in lack of productivity or inability to concentrate.

Regardless of what ADHD looks like on the outside, if you or someone you love is struggling with symptoms of ADHD, you deserve to be taken seriously and for your symptoms to be properly treated.

ADHD Symptoms Based On Age

ADHD symptoms vary based on a person’s age, and the same person may experience different ADHD symptoms at different times of life.

ADHD Symptoms In Adults

Some adults have had an ADHD diagnosis since childhood; others discover that they have ADHD when they become adults. Many adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as kids find that they have fewer ADHD symptoms as they get older. However, that is not always the case, and sometimes it’s simply that their symptoms have changed. Symptoms in adults can range from mild, to moderate, to severe. Many adults still experience severe symptoms even after childhood.

Here are the most common ADHD symptoms in adults and what they may look like:

  • Hyperactivity: In adults, hyperactivity may look more like restlessness, leg tapping, and pacing. It may look like someone who interrupts frequently or seems too talkative. It may be someone who is “always on the move.”
  •  Inattention in the Workplace: Adults who have ADHD may have trouble paying attention at work, organizing their day or their tasks, or completing tasks. They may have poor time management skills and seem to never meet deadlines. They may also have trouble listening during work meetings, and may miss important work appointments. An ADHD sufferer who is very impulsive may come across as moody, rude, angry, or tense.
  •  Difficulty Managing Home Tasks: ADHD can make managing one’s home life difficult. Someone with ADHD may put off tasks like making doctor’s appointments or filling out forms. They may be inattentive to chores, which may make their home environment cluttered or disorganized, and also irritate the people they live with. They may have trouble communicating with others and may appear to be poor listeners.
  • Task Completion Difficulties: In general, adults who have ADHD will have difficulty starting tasks (and may procrastinate important tasks), have trouble concentrating while completing tasks, have trouble planning the execution of tasks, and have trouble seeing tasks to fruition.

ADHD Symptoms In Children

ADHD symptoms are more common in children than they are in adults. Some children outgrow it by the time they reach adulthood, but some children continue to experience serious ADHD symptoms starting in childhood and persisting into adulthood.

Not two children will experience ADHD in exactly the same way. Some will have more outward symptoms like hyperactivity and talkativeness. Others will experience “quieter” symptoms such as moodiness and the inability to complete school work.

  • Hyperactivity: In young children, hyperactivity might be the first sign of ADHD. These children will never seem to sit still, especially in a school environment. They may bounce around instead of sitting, and they may even climb on furniture. A child with hyperactivity may seem “squirmy” and may also fidget in their seat.
  • School-related Issues: Most kids with ADHD are first suspected of having the disorder when they enter school. Besides not being able to sit still, these children may not wait their turn before answering a question, and may call out frequently. They may interrupt teachers or peers and may have trouble taking turns. They may have trouble completing schoolwork, or even starting it in the first place. They may have behavioral problems and appear moody, angry, or impulsive. They may frequently lose important items and not be able to keep their papers or notebooks organized.
  • Task Completion Difficulties: At home, a child with ADHD may have trouble sitting still for meals, and may have trouble getting ready for school or other outings in the morning. They may have trouble completing chores, or keeping their space organized. They may also have trouble participating in leisure activities or remaining calm or quiet.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Causes & Risk Factors

ADHD is not a character flaw, and it’s not caused by poor parenting. As the CDC explains, “research does not support the popularly held views that ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos.” While it’s true that some of these things can make ADHD symptoms worse, they are not what causes ADHD.

Scientists believe that genetics likely play the largest role in ADHD. For example, the CDC explains that “recent studies of twins link genes with ADHD.” After genetics, several other factors may influence the onset of ADHD, though more research needs to be done to understand the way these factors influence ADHD.

These factors include:

  • History of brain injury
  • Exposure to an environmental hazard, such as lead, either during pregnancy or early childhood
  • Use of tobacco or alcohol during pregnancy
  • Being born prematurely
  • Having a low weight at birth

How Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Is Diagnosed

ADHD isn’t something you can diagnose yourself. If you think you or your child may be experiencing ADHD, consult a doctor or behavioral therapist for an official diagnosis. 

Children who are experiencing ADHD may start by consulting with teachers, school staff, and school psychologists. School staff may be able to help you recognize the early signs of ADHD and come up with behavioral plans for children. However, they can’t diagnose ADHD. They may be able to refer parents to doctors and other behavioral specialists for diagnosis.

ADHD can be diagnosed alongside other conditions like behavior or conduct disorder, learning disorders, anxiety, or depression. Children with ADHD, specifically, are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder like Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), than children without ADHD. ODD is one of the most common disorders occurring with ADHD. Children with ODD are most likely to act defiant or oppositional with people they know like family members or caretakers.

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Diagnosis in both children and adults includes a medical evaluation to rule out any health issues that may be causing ADHD symptoms. This may include hearing and vision tests. Formal diagnosis of ADHD also includes a checklist to rate ADHD symptoms, a history of symptoms, and any analysis from teachers or others involved in the patient’s care.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Treatment Options

There is no quick-fix treatment for ADHD. Experts typically develop a comprehensive plan involving medication, behavioral counseling, psychological counseling, education, and skills management. Each person who has ADHD will need slightly different treatment based on their age, temperament, specific symptoms, and how they respond to treatment. The good news is that ADHD treatment works, although you have to be patient as it can take some trial and error to find the care plan that works best for you.

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ADHD Therapy

There are different therapy options for someone with ADHD. Some of these options include: 

Behavioral Therapy

This type of therapy combines counseling and psychotherapy with suggestions for behavioral modification. The therapist might help you organize your school work or job work, and may help you manage your challenging emotions. Behavioral therapy can help you recognize your behavioral patterns, and make more mindful decisions before acting on your emotions. For children, behavioral therapy for ADHD might include learning how to share, interact with others, and how to wait your turn to speak. Adults may learn how to structure their schedule and establish healthy routines around work and productivity.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Meditation

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful for people who have ADHD. This technique helps you recognize and accept your thoughts. It teaches you how to take a mindful pause before acting on your thoughts. This can help with impulsive ADHD behaviors. CBT therapy can also help with concentration and focus. Your therapist can teach you mindfulness and meditation techniques that will help with your ADHD symptoms.

Family and Marriage Therapy

Family therapy can help families and spouses deal with the difficult relationship challenges can result from ADHD. Communication skills and problem solving skills can be worked on in these therapy sessions.

Types Of ADHD Medications

Medications for ADHD must be prescribed by a doctor or a psychiatrist. Which type of medication that works varies from person to person and may change as you get older. It may take some patience to find the best medication for your body and needs. You may also have different experiences in terms of side effects and may need to change mediation or dosage based on how severe your side effects are.

Stimulants

These are the medications more likely to be prescribed to people who have ADHD. The most common stimulants for ADHD include medications that contain methylphenidate or amphetamine. Stimulants work by balancing the levels of neurotransmitters in your body.

Other common ADHD medications 

These may include atomoxetine and various antidepressants, including bupropion. The drawbacks of these is that they are not as fast acting as stimulants are. However, many people prefer alternatives to stimulants, because stimulants tend to have unpleasant side effects, such as sleep issues, decreased appetite, headaches, and irritability.

Psychiatry

Psychiatric treatment from a licensed prescriber

Lifestyle Modifications

There are changes in life and routine to better help manage ADHD. These include:

  • Making a list of daily tasks and displaying it in a prominent location (for children, this may involve pictures and labeling of furniture, clothing, etc.)
  • Using sticky notes for reminders, or setting up frequent reminders for yourself on your electronic devices.
  • Establishing set daily routines that help the set the tone for your day and remind you of what comes next
  • Create systems of organization within your workplace or home that are geared toward your sensibilities and help you stay on task

Parents of children with ADHD can work with teachers and counselors to establish at-home techniques that can be used with their child to help manage ADHD. These may include modeling and rewarding good behavior, teaching your child “cool down” techniques to manage emotions, and creating routines to help your child stay organized. Online and in-person ADHD support groups can also offer advice and support.