Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, sometimes called ADHD, is a chronic condition and the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder among children and adolescents. It occurs in about one in twenty children in this country. Boys are diagnosed with ADHD four times more frequently than girls. ADHD can affect children, teenagers and adults.
Individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder struggle with self-control, and tend to be accident-prone. Although their memory problems may interfere with their ability to perform in school or work, most individuals with ADHD have normal or above average intelligence.
There are three different types of ADHD. Individuals diagnosed with the inattentive type primarily exhibit impaired attention spans, increased vulnerability to distractions, sometimes appear as if they are not listening, are disorganized and have trouble finishing tasks. Those with the hyperactive-impulsive type may restless and fidgety, be unable to stay seated, appear as if they are “always on the go”, have difficulty sharing and taking turns, and seem to frequently interrupt. The most common type is combined attention-deficit/hyperactivity type, which, is a combination of the inattentive and the hyperactive-impulsive types.
A diagnosis of one of the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders is usually made when symptoms last at least six months and the above symptoms were first noticeable before five years of age. Generally, symptoms should have been observed in at least two different settings, such as home and school or home and work, before a diagnosis is made. Checklists, completed by teachers, co-workers or family members may be requested by your clinician as part of the evaluation process.
Children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are at risk for other behavioral health problems including oppositional disorder, anxiety disorder and learning disabilities. As teens or adults, these individuals can be more likely to develop personality or substance use problems.
Many causes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have been studied, but no single explanation seems to apply to all cases of the disorder. Viruses, harmful chemicals in the environment, genetics, problems during pregnancy or delivery, or anything that impairs brain development can play a role in causing the disorder.
Many types of medications have been used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The most widely used drugs are stimulants, but antidepressants may also be used to treat ADHD.
Behavior therapy, which involves using strategies to modify the behavior of children with the disorder is often helpful. This approach may include specialized reward systems to reinforce positive and discourage negative behaviors.
Although it is generally believed that a two-pronged treatment approach combining stimulants and behavior therapy is most helpful, it is not clear how long the benefits from treatment will last. Ongoing research efforts are aimed at identifying new medicines and psychological treatments.
When it comes to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, parents and caregivers should be careful not to jump to conclusions about the diagnosis. A high energy level in a child, without other symptoms or consequences, does not automatically mean mean that the child has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Also, attentional problems can sometimes be due to other psychological problems. The diagnosis depends on whether the child or adolescent can focus well enough to complete tasks that are developmentally appropriate for his or her age and intelligence. This ability is almost always best assessed in the classroom setting.
ADHD requires careful initial assessment and possibly long-term treatment. A professional evaluation is required to make the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
Education regarding ADHD is also helpful. Some of the following resources may be useful:
Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)
US Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC, 20202
Fax: (202) 401-0689
Toll Free: 1-800-USA-LEARN
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
3615 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC, 20016-3007
Phone: (202) 966-7300
Fax: (202) 966-2891
American Psychiatric Association (APA)
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209-3901
American Psychological Association
750 1st Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Toll Free: 1-800-374-2721
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
8181 Professional Place, Suite 150
Landover, MD 20785
Toll Free: 800-233-4050
Learning Disabilities Association of America
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349
National Center for Learning Disabilities
381 Park Avenue South Suite 1401
New York, NY 10016
Toll Free: 888-575-7373