Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that results in a group of behavioural symptoms including inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

People of any intellectual ability can have ADHD but many people with ADHD also have learning difficulties. People with ADHD may also have other problems such as sleep disorders.

Although the exact cause of ADHD is not known, research shows that it tends to run in families. Some research also shows that there may be differences in the way the brain works in people with ADHD.

The following may make it more likely for a person to have ADHD:

  • being male
  • smoking, alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy
  • being born prematurely


Symptoms

Symptoms of ADHD usually become noticeable at an early age. Symptoms may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change - such as starting school.

Young children are naturally active and easily distracted. However, if they are more active or easily distracted than other children in their age group and if this is affecting their daily life, they may have ADHD.

The three main symptoms of ADHD are inattentiveness, hyperactivity  and impulsiveness. You might notice the following behaviour in a person with ADHD:

Inattentiveness

  • a short attention span
  • being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes, for example in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time consuming
  • being unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • being unable to concentrate
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to settle to tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking

Impulsiveness

  • being unable to wait for a turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger


Treatment

There is no cure for ADHD but it can be managed through advice and support including therapy, educational support and medication.

Medication

Medications for ADHD are not a permanent cure but can help manage the symptoms of ADHD for some time during the day.  Medications can help people with ADHD to concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer and learn/practice new skills. There are three types of medication for ADHD:

  • methylphenidate
  • dexamfetamine
  • atomoxetine

Therapy

Different therapies can be useful in treating ADHD and can also help in treating additional problems that a person with ADHD can sometimes have, such as conduct or anxiety disorders.

Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy which encourages you to discuss ADHD and how it affects you. It can help make sense of being diagnosed with ADHD and can help you to cope and live with the condition.

Behaviour therapy can be used with children who have ADHD. It usually involves behaviour management, which uses a system of rewards and penalties to encourage your child to try and control their ADHD. This therapy helps parents or teachers learn how to encourage children with ADHD to make progress with their behaviour.

Social skills training involves taking part in role-play situations, and aims to teach people with ADHD, particularly children, how to behave in social situations by learning how their behaviour affects others.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that your problems are often created by you. So it is not the situation itself that is causing problems, but how you think about it and how you react to it. A CBT therapist would try and change how a person with ADHD feels about a situation, which would in turn change their behaviour.

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