Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Complete Guide
You may have heard people talk about how they may think their child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder because they’re having trouble sitting still, or you may have heard people talking about how they don’t believe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is real and in reality, it’s just an excuse for a poorly behaved child. But what exactly is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? In this article, we will discuss many aspects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in detail such as; symptoms, possible contributions to the causes of ADHD, how Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder impacts the brain, how Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is diagnosed, tips on coping with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, influential people throughout history who have had the disorder and much more.
What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common mental disorder affecting children. As many as 8.4 percents of school-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD”
While it is true that children are hyperactive and curious in general children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder face hyperactivity and impulse control to the extent that it has a negative impact on their educational, social, and home lives. Symptoms range from lacking the ability to pay attention, difficulty listening when spoken to, difficulty organizing everyday menial tasks, and consistent misplacing and forgetting items all the way to behavioral problems such as the inability to sit still and poor impulse control to the point where their safety is compromised. This is just to name a few. A common misconception about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is that it only impacts people in childhood and children will grow out of it. Since attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurological condition, an individual who has ADHD does not “grow out of it” but the symptoms may lessen in severity as they get older or the person learns how more effective coping mechanisms such as therapy or medication. Learn more about adult ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Symptoms/Subtypes
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder vary from children to adults. Some may exhibit one set of symptoms and another may exhibit a completely different combination. It is not common that two people with ADHD show the same exact symptoms. It is not always easy to tell whether or not a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder just by looking at their behavior. Children generally are rather hyperactive and generally dislike paying attention to things they are not interested in. In order to diagnose a child, he/she (more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD) must be observed. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tend to be far more hyperactive and inattentive than their peers. The hyperactivity and inattentiveness generally have a negative impact in their lives. It makes their social, educational, and personal life more difficult than that of their peers. Children with this disorder are likely to find it hard to interact with their peers cogently which may result in having smaller social groups than those around them. They may also find it hard to keep up in class and often have to work harder than their friends around them.
While there are different types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder the symptoms can include the following:
- difficulty paying attention and making cursory mistakes
- difficulty focusing
- inability to organize tasks and work, avoidance of tasks that require increased mental effort
- frequently losing items that they use daily, distractible, easily forgetful of daily chores
- constantly fidgeting, inability to stay still, inappropriately active
- overly talkative, can’t wait their turn, constantly interrupting
These symptoms can vary depending on whether the individual has an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder inattentive type or hyperactive type. Children and adults may have different severities of these symptoms and the symptoms may manifest differently. While a child may inappropriately run around the classroom an adult who is a little more socially aware and conscious of their environment may incessantly tap, or fidget in a manner that is bothersome to their coworkers. A child may forget where they place their homework and an adult may forget the important financial reports they’ve been working on all week on their coffee table. Both children and adults may find it difficult to stay on top of daily tasks that make their everyday lives a little more difficult and strenuous than their peers.
There are three subtypes of ADHD there is the; inattentive type, and the hyperactive/inattentive type, and both combined. Both types have symptoms that are unique to their own type. An individual may have inattentive ADHD and exhibit symptoms impacting their ability to focus and retain attention and may not exhibit hyperactive symptoms. When hyperactivity is absent it is known as attention deficit disorder or ADD. While people commonly use the ADHD and add interchangeably the two are distinctly different in terms of symptoms.
- Difficulty paying attention to details and making careless mistakes on school work and in job tasks
- Unable to keep the focus on tasks at hand and keep attention during class, conversations with others, or reading
- Seeming to not listen when addressed
- Cannot follow instructions and fails to follow through on school work and chores
- Disliking of tasks that require critical thinking or excessive mental ability
- Constant fidgeting, unable to sit still
- Active when inappropriate
- Inability to remain quiet
- Constant talking
- Interrupts others frequently
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Diagnosis
In order to diagnose an individual with ADHD or ADD they have to have more than one of the symptoms for either the hyperactivity type or the inattentive type. In order for a child to be diagnosed with the inattentive type of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they must exhibit at least six of the aforementioned symptoms. When diagnosing children at least six of the symptoms must be present and must persist for a minimum of six months. While deciding whether or not an individual’s symptoms may meet the standard to be considered as part of the diagnosis the clinician will have to decide if the severity of the reported symptoms is inappropriate for the individuals developmental level.
Diagnostics for hyperactivity and impulsivity follow similar but slightly different criteria. In order to diagnose an individual with the hyperactive/impulsive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms must be present for a minimum of six months and it must be considered disruptive to the person’s life and the severity must be inappropriate for the level f development. Aside from meeting the six-month threshold some symptoms must be present since the age of 12 and have clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with the individual’s personal life (relationships, work, school).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Adult Diagnosis
While attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is an issue that an individual doesn’t grow out of once they hit adulthood often times people are not diagnosed as children and seek evaluation as adults. While symptoms may become less severe in intensity and may become more manageable they never fully go away diagnosing adult ADHD is different and may be more difficult than doing so in adolescents. Since the belief among clinicians and those who research the disorder believe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to be a developmental issue it is thought that adults don’t just develop symptoms seemingly out of the blue or after some precipitating event like some mental illnesses. It must be present throughout childhood. While individuals may not notice the symptoms as much when their kids because let’s be honest, children aren’t really paying attention to issues such as forgetting their homework or being unable to pay attention in class. They just think the class is boring. Adults may notice such issues more. They may notice that no matter how many times they tell themselves not to forget the weekly earnings report they do exactly that.
It is thought that at least 15% of children diagnosed with ADHD still have the same ADHD symptoms by the age of 25. While the symptoms may be the same in adults as children the presentation may be different. A child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may not be able to sit and listen to his teacher and instead opt to run around the classroom. An adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have the same difficulty with hyperactivity and inattention but may not necessarily run around their office. Instead, they may find they can’t stop shaking their leg, they may be unable to pay attention to their meeting or during a conference call.
When a clinician diagnosis an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder they are usually working with an individual whose 17 years of age or older. Typically, only five symptoms are required to be present than the six that are needed for a childhood diagnosis. What is similar is that symptoms will have to be considered to negatively impact a person’s life (social, educational, career) and the symptoms must be present since adulthood.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Etiology
It is not yet entirely clear as to what it is that causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, some are not even sure there is one singular cause but rather an amalgam of contributing factors. It has been found that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have some genetic component. If a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder it is believed to be four to five times more likely that either one of their parents or siblings has the condition as well. There are some beliefs among professionals that environmental factors may play a role in a child developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some research suggests that aside from birth defects and other developmental disorders such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) there may be a link between fetal exposure and ADHD.
Research suggests that those who are exposed to alcohol and tobacco in the prenatal stage are 2.4 times more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than those who were not exposed. Other researchers believe that there may be a link to the neurotoxin, lead, may play a role in the developmental disorder. Research done in 2009 had found that kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have higher blood-lead levels than those who do not. Some people blame television, video games, bad parenting, and sugar for this disorder. There is no research to support those beliefs and being that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder we can set aside the idea that television, bad parenting, and eating sweets occasionally is a causal factor. If this were the case we would see a much higher rate of ADHD. There is not yet a clear, singular etiology for ADHD. This is certainly one of the biggest questions surrounding researchers of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. With research and technology ever evolving we may not be so far from this long-sought answer.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The Brain
Studies have shown that there is a difference in the brains of individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than in those without it, some of these differences may change with further development. Some researchers believe that the difficulties faced by individuals with ADHD are due to a lack of development in the front part of their brain. The area of the brain known as the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for a bevy of important functions, most of which are the main issues that people with ADHD struggle with such as; Problem Solving, Memory, Judgement, Social behavior, Impulse control, Decision-making, Attention, and Motivation. Researchers believe that this part of the brain may mature later in those who have ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Networks and Neurotransmitters
The brain is comprised of neurons that transmit signals throughout. These signals travel through what is called networks in the brain. The networks are comprised of nerve cells. Many researchers believe and identified that in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder these networks behave differently in people with ADHD.
The brain uses what is called neurotransmitters to move signals from one nerve cell to another through the networks. While there are many different neurotransmitters in the brain researchers believe that the two main neurotransmitters that play a role in ADHD are Dopamine and norepinephrine. However, researchers still do not know how exactly these issues lead to the symptoms and causes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Motivation
Aside from having difficulties with attention and hyperactivity people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder especially children find it very difficult to stay motivated. As someone who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at a young age and has faced all the difficulties described I can attest to the difficulty in finding motivation with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some believe that a difficulty in motivation may come from the fact that the brains of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are constantly racing and have a hard time focusing on one task at a time. When you have so many things running through your mind and difficulty prioritizing them it is not uncommon to get overwhelmed and then wind up completing none of them. Others believe individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder find it hard to keep motivated because they are constantly criticized and chastised for the smallest mistakes they make and are often made to feel as though they are dumber than their peers. If every mistake you made was followed with a remark such as “why would you do that, don’t you know better?” it’s understandable why a person may lack the motivation to complete tasks and try new things.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Impact on Learning.
Individuals often face difficulties in school. Not because they are less intelligent, quite the contrary. Many with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder test higher than average on intelligence tests. This has baffled researchers. One study of 117 students who meet the diagnostic criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder scored 120 or more on IQ tests which placed them in the 9% and above for their age group. Many experts believe that those with ADHD who have difficulty in school have the most difficulty actually using their intellectual ability not that they lack any. They believe that this difficulty may be because individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have greater difficulty with executive functioning than others do. Executive functioning (EF) includes; activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, and action. I recall some of the most difficult times I had was keeping up with the rest of my class and maintain good grades. Which was equally frustrating to my family as it was to me given that I tested above average in testing. I had the greatest difficulty with accessing my intellect through executive functions like most with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder do. It seemed that no matter how many times I studied a particular historical fact or a math rule (I hated math) I could not access my memory function the day of the test.
ADHD and learning disabilities
While young adults may face enough difficulties in the classroom from the issues that present from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder it is estimated that 20-30% also have another learning disability. People with ADHD often face issues with other learning issues such as:
- Auditory Processing Disorder
- Visual Processing Disorder
Not everyone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will have a learning disorder, but it is certainly not uncommon for that to be the case.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Impact on kids
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder does not only impact the child in the school setting it also impacts that child at home and in social settings. While a child may certainly find it difficult to focus in the classroom they may find it difficult to associate with their peers or develop meaningful with their peers. Kids and young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may often find it hard to develop meaningful relationships because often times others may not understand or misconstrue their behavior and symptoms.
A hyperactive or inattentive person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be constantly fidgeting, zone out when holding conversations, they may be impulsive and blurt out during inappropriate times. These behaviors and others that come with ADHD may lead others to think the person is annoying, weird, bothersome, and difficult to be around.
Many with ADHD, especially younger may find it hard to fit in many social situations because often times they may find it difficult to conform to a group or have issues with anxiety. Kids with ADHD are also impacted at home. Parents may believe their child is being purposefully defiant or difficult when in reality they simply zoned out or truly forgot what they were asked to do. Heaven knows when I was younger whatever my mother asked me to do slipped my mind in under five minutes and then when she said she told me I had no recollection of it. Tips on ADHD Parenting.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Comorbid issues
Kids may find it increasingly difficult to maintain meaningful relationships due to the fact that those with ADHD often suffer from other issues as well as making ADHD even more difficult to deal with. Some such disorder is:
- Operational Defiant Disorder: 21-60% of children may be affected. This is generally characterized by an inability to take instruction, consistent contention with the rules in place, purposely disrupting others, and not being able to take accountability for their mistakes.
- Depression: 10-30% of children may be affected. Children may show signs of depression differently than adults. They may show unpredictable and impulsive hyperactive behavior along with intense irritability.
- Anxiety: may occur in 25% of children with ADHD. This disorder may be the most general and is characterized by unpredictable mood, intense irritability, lack of energy at random times, difficulty with self-image, an intense unwilling to attempt new tasks.
- Bipolar Disorder– it is believed that a half of boys who have ADHD and a quarter of girls will also show signs of bipolar issues. This can be characterized as Intense emotions, overbearingness, lack of desire waking up, and impulsive inattention and hyperactive behavior.
- Conduct Disorder– 25-40% of children with ADHD also meet the criteria for conduct disorder. This is characterized by aggressive tendencies, destruction of property, deceitfulness, and severe disregard for the rules.
These are some of the common comorbid disorders that may accompany children who have ADHD. Children may find it increasingly more difficult to socialize who deal with one of these comorbid disorders as they are very anti-social and have traits that are unarguably undesirable of a friend.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Impact on Adults
As we discussed before attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a developmental disorder. So, adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were once kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, all the symptoms and comorbid disorders that impact kids also impact adults. Just in a different way. Since adults may also face difficulties with organization, motivation, retaining attention, and impulsivity it is increasingly difficult to maintain stable relationships, form intimate relationships, and even maintain a job. It is not uncommon for adults to have gotten into legal trouble at least once in their life due to their impulsivity.
According to the ADHD INSTITUTE, adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have a higher incidence of criminality, substance abuse, reckless driving, traffic violations, and suspended licenses (ADHD institute). Aside from issues with the law and illicit activities adults may find it increasingly difficult to maintain relationships due to their symptoms. We mentioned the comorbid disorders that may accompany attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, these disorders are just as relevant to adults and may manifest with more intensity.
Adults who suffer from anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder along with ADHD will likely find it difficult to get along with others for the simple fact they may be more prone to overthinking and many people are easily annoyed. I have found it somewhat difficult to maintain personal relationships because unlike neuro-typical individuals I find it difficult to read unspoken social cues and overthink constantly due to the comorbidity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. One thing that adults who face difficulties because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder should know is that although things may seem a little more difficult they do not have to be impossible. Just because you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder does not mean you have to give in to every impulse and add to the statistic of individuals who break the law or make irresponsible decisions. There are many ways that you can help yourself alleviate your symptoms with or with or without medication. A few techniques even work for me!
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Effective Management
There are plenty of reasonable and effective ways to cope and even lessen the severity of them. While many think that the most effective and sometimes the only way to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is through medication, there are alternatives. Many of these techniques I have used myself and can say some helped more than others but the results vary from person to person. Since a major symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is hyperactivity one highly effective managing method is exercise!
You don’t have to go to the gym daily for hours like your preparing for the world’s strongest man competition. Just walking for 15-30 minutes is enough to energize you and at the same time ease your hyperactivity. Personally, I have found exercise to be immensely helpful, by keeping myself active I am giving my hyperactivity an appropriate outlet to escape. This is good for both adults and kids.
Research is showing that keeping a regular fitness routine can lower hyperactivity, and even improve a person’s cognitive abilities! Through exercise, our brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical has been found to increase attention and relieve stress and help individuals think with clarity since people with ADHD often have lower levels of dopamine this is a great way for you to perform at your optimum level. Regular exercise works to increase dopamine in the brain which is the same thing that medications targeted for ADHD does. If you don’t like the idea of taking medication exercise may be a great alternative.
Other issues that medication addresses that regular exercise may also have an effect are:
- Relief of stress and anxiety
- Improving one’s ability to control impulses and lower compulsive behavior
- Improve working memory
- Improvement to executive functioning
- Improve proteins in the brain that are involved with learning and memory
Brain training can be a great way to train the cognitive skills affected in ADHD.
Exercising is not the only way to relieve the symptoms of ADHD, meditation is also a tremendous help. Now, when you think of meditation I’m sure you think of sitting with your legs crossed in total silence while humming. While that is a form of meditation there are so many more that may help you. You can meditate while writing, reading, playing with your dog, pretty much anything that helps you disassociate from the stress of everyday life! Wikipedia defines meditation as “a practice where an individual focuses their mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state”. Personally, I find relaxation and mental clarity by reading or playing a video game. Video games help me zone out the world and regroup from the chaos of life. However, if we take the definition offered by Wikipedia anything you do can be meditation. If you love to paint, draw, or even just watch the clouds, go for it! By gaining control over your stress you can limit the anxiety and lack of focus of ADHD as stress can exacerbate these symptoms.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Medications
Aside from exercise and meditation, there are many people who find medication to be immensely helpful. Here we will go over some of the most common medication types used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are many different types of medications such as stimulant (long and short acting), amphetamine stimulants, methylphenidates stimulants, and non-stimulants. All medications types run the risk of side effects such as; loss of appetite, sleep issues, social withdrawal, and others depending on the specific type of medication so it is always important to thoroughly review all the potential side effects with your doctor and to immediately call them if you are experiencing anything you believe to be a serious side effect. Medications work by increasing communication in the brain between networks, Increasing neurotransmitters, and their effectiveness. The two main types of medication are stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulants work by targeting dopamine and non-stimulants target norepinephrine.
Common types of medications both stimulates and non-stimulants include:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Famous People
While people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may feel like they are the only ones who deal with ADHD and the issues that come with it, I can safely say I have. However, this is not the case! There have been many notable figures who shaped history that is likely to have had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or some other learning disorder and some we know for sure had ADHD. These people had learned to use the issues that present with ADHD to their advantage, issues like; hyper-focusing, thinking outside the box, creativity, adaptive, resourcefulness, and the list can go on of the qualities that can actually aid individuals with ADHD.
You may have heard of some of these people;
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Thomas Edison
- Babe Ruth
- Simone Biles
- Ryan Gosling
- Rep. Kendrick Meek
- Richard Branson
The list could go on, but all of these people are believed to have ADHD and other learning disorders and have accomplished enormous things.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Conclusions
Living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can make life incredibly difficult for adults and children alike but it doesn’t have to make it impossible. With many effective ways of managing ADHD such as medication, medication alternatives such as exercise and meditation. While we spoke about how the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can make life seem impossible managing the symptoms can make a world of difference. Plenty of people may see this obstacle as insurmountable. School may seem impossible, developing and maintaining all kinds of relationships may be unheard of, and basic everyday tasks might seem too tedious to complete. But, it can be done all of the people that we listed in the previous section is undeniable proof of this and if that is not enough I can personally attest to how possible it is to live a happy and fulfilling life.
As a young child I was denied entrance to schools upon finding out of my diagnosis with my mother being told “he doesn’t belong here”. It was difficult to maintain relationships of all kinds because of my anxiety and hyper-focus on issues that seemed unimportant to others, but with the use of the aforementioned techniques, I am now a college graduate preparing to apply for graduate schools. I now find it easier to maintain friendships and work relationships. If I can do find ways to overcome the nagging symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder I am sure almost anyone can just be prepared to accept that although it may seem impossible it can be life changing!
Feel free to leave your comments below.
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I am a 25-year-old graduate of The College of Staten Island with a B.S in psychology. I have a keen interest in the study of psychology with respect to mental health issues such as; ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental health issues that afflict people day-to-day. I am also interested in exploring the numerous ways in which psychology can improve the lives of individuals with and without mental health issues. I intend to study for my masters in psychology and go on to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology.