What is ADHD?


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also known as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder, is a condition that affects about 3 to 5% of children in the United States today. In the 1970’s, experts began using the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” to describe the condition. It is a common misconception that ADD and ADHD are two different conditions, though the correct term used by medical professionals today is ADHD.
While the condition is most often associated with children, there has been a more recent understanding that ADHD continues into adulthood for many individuals. ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and overactivity are now known to continue into adulthood for a significant percentage of children with ADHD. Unfortunately, relatively few adults seek diagnosis or treatment for ADHD.
Read below to learn more about attention deficit.

What causes ADHD?
The prevalence of attention deficit in adults
The diagnosis of ADHD in adults
Characteristics of adults with attention deficit
Why identify ADHD in Adults
What to do after ADHD Diagnosis
Tips for patients with ADHD

The exact cause or causes of ADHD are not conclusively known. Scientific evidence suggests that in many cases the disorder is genetically transmitted and is caused by an imbalance or deficiency in certain chemicals that regulate the efficiency with which the brain controls behavior. A 1990 study at the National Institute of Mental Health correlated ADHD with a series of metabolic abnormalities in the brain, providing further evidence that ADHD is a neurobiological disorder.
While heredity is often indicated, problems in prenatal development, birth complications, or later neurological damage can contribute to ADHD. There is little scientific evidence to suggest that environmental factors, dietary factors such as food dyes or sugar, inner-ear problems or “visual motor” difficulties are the underlying cause of ADHD.

The prevalence of ADHD in adults is unknown; very few have been studied. In the few treatment studies of adults, there does not appear to be a significant sex difference. About two-thirds of the children who are diagnosed in or before elementary school with ADHD continue to have behavioral symptoms in adolescence. During this time period, associated behavioral, learning, and emotional problems also manifest themselves. Approximately one-third to one-half of these adolescents continue to have symptoms of ADHD during their adult years.

A multi-factored evaluation of an individual is important in the diagnosis of ADHD. Diagnostic assessment of adults should be made by a clinician or a team of clinicians with expertise in the area of attentional dysfunction and related conditions.

The assessment is designed to look for the presence of lifelong patterns of behavior that indicate underlying attention and impulse problems. An evaluation should make use of information from a variety of sources. These may include:

A thorough medical and family history. A physical examination. Interviews or rating scales completed by others who can comment on the person’s behavior, such as a parent, friend or spouse. Observation of the individual. Psychological tests which measure cognitive abilities, social and emotional adjustment, as well as screen for learning disabilities. Various symptoms of ADHD may reflect developmental differences in some individuals while in others, they may indicate that other conditions co-exist with ADHD, including specific learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, affective disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, borderline personality disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Adults who are living with the condition, and especially those who are undiagnosed and untreated, may be experiencing a number of problems, some of which stem directly from the disorder and others that are the result of associated adjustment patterns.

Current symptoms of an adult with ADHD may include: Distractibility; Disorganization; Forgetfulness; Procrastination; Chronic lateness; Chronic boredom; Anxiety; Depression; Low self-esteem; Mood swing; Employment problems; Restlessness; Substance abuse or addictions; Relationship problems; The symptoms of ADHD can be variable and situational, or constant. Some people with ADHD can concentrate if they are interested or excited, while others have difficulty concentrating under any circumstances. Some avidly seek stimulation, while others avoid it. Some become oppositional, ill-behaved and, later, antisocial; others may become ardent people-pleasers. Some are outgoing, and other, withdrawn.

Identification of adults who have ADHD and appropriate management of their educational, personal, and social development improves their chances for a successful outcome. Effective intervention can improve self-esteem, work performance and skills, and educational achievement.

A proper diagnosis of ADHD can help an adult put his or her difficulties into perspective. These individuals have often developed low self-esteem and negative perceptions of themselves as a result of cumulative academic, social, and vocational failures. Many have been labeled as “having a bad attitude,” “a slow learner,” “lacking motivation”, “immature,” “lazy,” “spacey,” or “self-centered.” Rather than viewing their difficulties as the result of an inherited or acquired neurobiological disorder, many have come to accept the unsubstantiated belief that they themselves are to blame for their problems.

The methods of ADHD treatment supported by professionals may include a combination of education for the adult and his or her family and close friends, educational/employment accommodations, medication, and counseling. Appropriate treatment is determined according to the severity of an individual’s disorder and the type and number of associated problems.

Many people have benefited from a treatment plan that includes medication. Used in conjunction with education and counseling, it can provide a base from which adults can build new successes. The purpose of medication is to help the adult to help him or herself. It provides the biological support needed for self-control. As such, the individual is not “controlled” by medication; the efforts to succeed are his or her own.

Use internal structure. This include using datebooks, lists, notes to oneself, colorcoding, routines, reminders and files. Choose “Good Addictions.” Select exercise or other healthy, favorite activities for a regular structured “blow-out” time. Set up a Rewarding Environment. Design projects, tasks, etc., to minimize or eliminate frustration. Break large tasks into smaller ones; prioritize. Use Time-outs. Take time to calm down and regain perspective when upset, overwhelmed or angry. Walk away from a situation if needed. Use Humor. It’s useful if partners and colleagues are constantly providing an aggressive push to help one stay on track as long as it’s done with humor and sensitivity. Learn to view symptoms of ADHD with humor and to joke with close friends and relatives about symptoms such as getting lost, forgetfulness, etc. Become Educated and an Educator. Read books. Talk to professionals. Talk to other adults who have ADD. Let people who matter know about personal strengths and weaknesses related to ADD. Be an advocate.

Sources: Information obtained from the CHADD fact sheet: Attention Deficit Disorders–Not Just For Children. For more information, contact the

National Mental Health Association1021 Prince Street Alexandria, VA 22314 Phone 800-969-6642

CHADD: (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) 8181 Professional PlaceSuite 201Landover, MD 20785Phone 301-306-7070www.chadd.org