Oct 12th 2022
M.S. Counseling Psychology
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosable mental health condition that causes difficulty with sustaining attention to tasks and controlling impulsive behavior. The condition usually develops during childhood, and it is treated with medications, therapy, and sometimes a combination of the two.
ADHD is a mental health condition that begins during childhood. Symptoms appear before the age of 12, and they cause disruption to daily life. Research suggests that ADHD is highly heritable, which means that genetic risk factors contribute strongly to the development of the condition. Differences in brain structure and function are also believed to contribute to ADHD symptoms .
Children and teens with ADHD experience symptoms such as rushing through tasks, having difficulty paying attention, interrupting others, and fidgeting . While these are some general symptoms of ADHD, it is helpful to understand that the DSM-5, the manual used to diagnose mental disorders, lists three subtypes of ADHD :
Sometimes, people use the term “ADD,” or attention deficit disorder, when talking about ADHD. So, what is the difference between ADD and ADHD? Usually, when people use the term “ADD,” they are just referring to ADHD. In fact, in older versions of the DSM, the condition was called attention deficit disorder, and it could occur either with or without hyperactivity .
With the introduction of newer versions of the DSM, ADHD can now occur as predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, or a combined presentation. When people use the term ADD, they are often referring to the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD, but the term ADD is no longer clinically accurate.
ADHD symptoms can fall under the category of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity. Some general symptoms that occur with ADHD are as follows :
While you may notice symptoms of ADHD in yourself or a child, you cannot self-diagnose the condition. If you suspect ADHD, it is important to see a doctor or a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or social worker, to receive a diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Healthcare professionals diagnose ADHD using professional judgment and the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5. To be diagnosed with ADHD, children must show six or more symptoms, whereas teens aged 17 and above and adults must demonstrate five or more symptoms. Symptoms must be present for at least six months .
A person who meets enough symptoms of inattention will be diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD, whereas a person who shows enough symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity will be diagnosed with that subtype. Finally, meeting enough symptoms of both subtypes results in a diagnosis of a combined presentation .
The diagnostic criteria for the specific subtypes are listed below .
Diagnosing ADHD can sometimes be difficult as many individuals will 'mask', or hide, their symptoms from others. See here for more information on ADHD masking.
There is no single cause of ADHD; rather, a variety of factors can increase a child’s risk of developing this condition. Researchers have established that there is a strong genetic component to ADHD, meaning that genetic factors can contribute to ADHD’s development .
There are multiple environmental factors that can also increase the risk of developing ADHD. For example, premature birth, low birth weight, and poor nutrition during the prenatal period can all increase a child’s risk for ADHD, as these factors can negatively affect brain development .
Other factors that may contribute to ADHD are exposure to pesticides and heavy metals. Researchers have found that being exposed to pesticides during pregnancy or while breastfeeding results in symptoms of ADHD. Furthermore, lead exposure, as well as exposure to several other heavy metals, can lead to ADHD symptoms .
What can be concluded from the available research is that genetics strongly influence whether or not a child will develop ADHD, but the environment is also important. Environmental influences are at play while a child is still developing in utero.
There is no cure for ADHD, but there are treatment options that can make symptoms more manageable and reduce the interference that ADHD causes in daily life. With treatment and support, individuals who live with ADHD can learn to function well in work, school, and social settings. Both medication and behavioral therapies have been found to be beneficial for treating ADHD.
Both of these treatment options are detailed below.
There are numerous medications that have been found to be effective for treating ADHD symptoms:
Medications can be an effective treatment option for ADHD, but it’s important to remember medications can come with side effects. Common side effects of ADHD medications include lack of appetite, sleep disturbances, stomach pain, anxiety, headaches, and nausea . For many people, the benefits of taking medication outweigh the side effects.
Therapies can teach people with ADHD to cope with symptoms and manage their behavior. Some common therapeutic modalities are discussed below:
If your child shows symptoms of ADHD, it’s important to consult with your child’s pediatrician. They will perform an assessment, which will likely include sending a questionnaire to your child’s teacher, to determine what symptoms your child demonstrates in the classroom. You will also be asked to fill out a parent questionnaire to rate ADHD symptoms.
If diagnosed, the first line of treatment will depend upon your child’s age. For children under age 6, behavioral therapy is typically recommended before starting medication. Once a child turns 6, medication is typically used alongside behavioral therapy .
In addition to seeking treatment for your child, you can use the following strategies to help your child cope with ADHD symptoms :
The answers to the following questions can also be helpful if you’re looking for information about ADHD.
ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. According to prevalence studies, 3 to 5 percent of children live with ADHD, and an additional 5 percent have attention and impulse control problems that do not meet the threshold for an ADHD diagnosis .
There has been ongoing debate regarding whether a person can develop adult-onset ADHD. ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood, and symptoms have to be present before age 12 for a diagnosis. Despite this fact, some adults show ADHD symptoms, but they report they did not have these symptoms during childhood.
Research into adult-onset ADHD suggests that adults who have ADHD symptoms that were not present during childhood might not have displayed obvious symptoms earlier in life because there were not as many demands placed on them in childhood.
Once they reach adulthood and are required to maintain employment and tend to responsibilities like bills and chores, symptoms become more apparent. Furthermore, some people may not have been diagnosed as children because their symptoms were not severe enough to come to the attention of a doctor or mental health professional , or they were able to manage them well enough that they could be described as 'high-functioning'.
Studies suggest that children and teens with ADHD are likely to have other mental health disorders. For example, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder are common in children with ADHD. ODD and conduct disorder are linked to aggressive, disruptive behaviors. Anxiety and mood disorders like depression are also common in people with ADHD .
In some cases, ADHD may lead to the development of other mental health conditions. It is also possible that the same risk factors can lead to both ADHD and conditions like depression .
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