Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects children and teens and can continue into adulthood. ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder of children. Children with ADHD may be hyperactive and unable control their impulses. Or they may have trouble paying attention. These behaviors interfere with school and home life.
It’s more common in boys than in girls. It’s usually discovered during the early school years, when a child begins to have problems paying attention.
Symptoms in Children
Symptoms are grouped into three categories:
Inattention. A child with ADHD:
- Is easily distracted
- Doesn't follow directions or finish tasks
- Doesn't appear to be listening
- Doesn't pay attention and makes careless mistakes
- Forgets about daily activities
- Has problems organizing daily tasks
- Doesn’t like to do things that require sitting still
- Often loses things
- Tends to daydream
Hyperactivity. A child with ADHD:
- Often squirms, fidgets, or bounces when sitting
- Doesn't stay seated
- Has trouble playing quietly
- Is always moving, such as running or climbing on things (In teens and adults, this is more commonly described as restlessness.)
- Talks excessively
- Is always “on the go” as if “driven by a motor”
Impulsivity. A child with ADHD:
- Has trouble waiting for his or her turn
- Blurts out answers
- Interrupts others
Symptoms in Adults
Symptoms of ADHD may change as a person gets older. They include:
- Chronic lateness and forgetfulness
- Low self-esteem
- Problems at work
- Trouble controlling anger
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Easily frustrated
- Chronic boredom
- Trouble concentrating when reading
- Mood swings
- Relationship problems
Causes of ADHD
The cause of ADHD isn’t known. Researchers say several things may lead to it, including:
- Heredity. ADHD tends to run in families.
- Chemical imbalance. Brain chemicals in people with ADHD may be out of balance.
- Brain changes. Areas of the brain that control attention are less active in children with ADHD.
- Poor nutrition, infections, smoking, drinking, and substance abuse during pregnancy. These things can affect a baby’s brain development.
- Toxins, such as lead. They may affect a child's brain development.
- A brain injury or a brain disorder. Damage to the front of the brain, called the frontal lobe, can cause problems with controlling impulses and emotions.
Sugar doesn’t cause ADHD. ADHD also isn’t caused by watching too much TV, a poor home life, poor schools, or food allergies.
ADHD can't be prevented or cured. But spotting it early, plus having a good treatment and education plan, can help a child or adult with ADHD manage their symptoms.
Many symptoms of ADHD can be managed with medication and therapy.
Medication: Medications called stimulants can help control hyperactive and impulsive behavior and increase attention span. They include:
- Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)
- Dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine)
- Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
- Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin, Quillivant)
Stimulant medications don’t work for everyone with ADHD. Nonstimulant medications may be prescribed for people older than 6. These include:
Dietary supplements with omega 3s have shown some benefit. The FDA has approved a medical food called Vayarin, which contains omega-3s and is available by prescription only.
Therapy: These treatments focus on changing behavior.
- Special education helps a child learn at school. Having structure and a routine can help children with ADHD a lot.
- Behavior modification teaches ways to replace bad behaviors with good ones.
- Psychotherapy (counseling) can help someone with ADHD learn better ways to handle their emotions and frustration. It can also help improve their self-esteem. Counseling may also help family members better understand the child or adult with ADHD.
- Social skills training can teach behaviors, such as taking turns and sharing.
Support groups of people with similar problems and needs can help with acceptance and support. Groups also can provide a way to learn more about ADHD. These groups are helpful for adults with ADHD or parents of children with ADHD.
What to Expect
Many people with ADHD live successful, happy, full lives. Treatment helps. It’s important to pay attention to symptoms and see a doctor regularly. Sometimes, medication and treatments that were once effective stop working. You may need to change the treatment plan. For many people, the symptoms of ADHD get better in early adulthood, and some are able to stop treatment.