Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder that affects children. Identified by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, ADHD is usually discovered during the early school years when children begin to have problems adjusting to environments that require them to pay attention and follow direction.
All children struggle with focusing for extended periods of time and a certain amount of behavioral issues, but for those with ADHD, these behaviors are more frequent and consequential. Because it interferes with normal development and functioning, children with ADHD often suffer from low self-esteem, relationship issues and poor performance in school. Symptoms may lessen with age or be managed through different methods, but some people never entirely outgrow them.
Affecting millions of children in the U.S., inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior is the primary features of ADHD and are generally present by the age of 12. Symptoms, which can be mild, moderate or severe, vary from one child to another and intensity levels can change with time. 60 percent of children with ADHD will still have it as adults. Boys seem to be more susceptible to ADHD than girls and may display more hyperactive behavior, while girls may have problems primarily with inattention. Although there is no direct association, other conditions, such as learning disabilities, anxiety and conduct disorders, depression and substance abuse tend to be common in people with ADHD.
Symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Before 1994, ADD, minus the “H” for hyperactive, was commonly used. At that time, it was decided all forms of attention-deficit disorder would be called “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” even if the individual did not display hyperactive behaviors. There are three different types of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, distinguished by which types of symptoms present the strongest in the individual. They are:
- Predominantly inattentive – here the majority of symptoms fall under inattention, which can include disorganization, difficulty staying on task, frequent daydreaming, and not paying attention when spoken to directly.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive – hyperactive symptoms may involve squirming, fidgeting, tapping, non-stop talking and movement, especially where not appropriate and impulsive symptoms may include spur-of-the-moment decisions without any regard to consequences, interrupting friends, family and authority figures and looking for an immediate reward.
- Combined – this is the most common type of ADHD in the U.S. and combines some combination of inattentive symptoms and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
What is the Cause of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
As with most other mental disorders, the exact cause of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is not clear. Sugar intake continues to be a popular suspect in causing hyperactivity, but there is no credible proof that it plays a role in ADHD. Ongoing research efforts believe that there are certain risk factors that may be involved in the development of ADHD. These include:
- Having a close, blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with ADHD or another mental health disorder
- Exposure to environmental toxins, like lead found in paint and pipes in older buildings
- Drugs, alcohol, and smoking during pregnancy
- Low birth weight
- Brain trauma or injury
There is currently no cure for ADHD. There are, however, treatments available that have proven effective in helping to reduce symptoms and improve functioning. These include medication, psychotherapy, educational programs or a combination of treatments.