It’s normal to occasionally feel fidgety or have trouble focusing. For people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these symptoms make it tough to complete tasks, manage time, or succeed at work or school. Symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, or poor impulse control may benefit from an evaluation and treatment for ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. These traits are normal to some extent, especially in children and teens. Having ADHD, however, involves a persistent pattern of characteristics that interferes with functioning in a significant way.
Signs and symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is usually diagnosed when someone experiences a combination of inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive symptoms that can disrupt everyday life. These symptoms might include:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Difficulty getting started on tasks
- Difficulty following through on tasks
- Difficulty planning and organizing
- Poor time management
- Frequently losing things
- Being easily distracted
- Forgetting important things
- Making careless mistakes or forgetting details
- Frequent fidgeting
- Talking excessively
- Feeling restless
- Interrupting others
- Difficulty tolerating frustration or controlling anger
One or two occasional symptoms might not be cause for concern. Talk to your doctor or clinician about getting evaluated for ADHD if you feel inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity are disrupting your life.
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What causes ADHD?
ADHD appears to have high heritability (Cook, 2001). In other words, genes seem to play a large role in whether you will develop ADHD. Certain environmental factors can play a role in the development of ADHD, though the evidence is inconsistent (Thapar et al., 2011). These may include neglect, abuse, poverty, prenatal exposure to cigarette smoking, childhood exposure to toxins, and low birth weight.
Types of ADHD
ADHD can be broken down into three subtypes, each offering different presentations.
Predominantly inattentive presentation
People with predominantly inattentive ADHD experience poor concentration, are easily distracted, and are forgetful. They may find it hard to get started on tasks or sustain the attention required to complete them.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
People with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD can experience restlessness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. They might feel as though they constantly need to be moving or talking or have trouble sitting quietly for long periods of time.
People with the combined subtype of ADHD experience symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.
ADHD in children and adults
ADHD can present differently in children and adults. While the symptoms themselves are similar, society demands very different things of adults and children.
The lives of school-age children are often highly structured and require sustained attention and quiet listening. In contrast, adults are often required to make independent choices, organize their own lives, and work independently. Both sets of demands can be difficult in different ways for people with ADHD.
Many adults learn to mask their symptoms in order to function in the workplace and get along with others. Fearing social backlash, adults with ADHD may not ask for accommodations or disclose their diagnosis to others, even if it might help others understand their needs.
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How is ADHD diagnosed?
A diagnosis of ADHD usually involves a neuropsychological evaluation administered by a clinician. The clinician may ask about your current symptoms and functioning, mental health history, school history, and other aspects of your life.
They may also perform psychometric tests to learn more about how your brain works. Tests are administered on paper, on a computer, or as part of a structured interview. There are no wrong answers with psychometric tests. They are designed to give the psychologist more information about your symptoms so they can make the right diagnosis.
Treatments for ADHD
ADHD is usually treated using therapy, medication, or both. After your evaluation, you’ll discuss your goals and preferences for treatment and receive referrals to clinicians who can address your symptoms.
When to seek treatment for ADHD
You shouldn’t wait to seek treatment for ADHD. Therapy or medication can help you manage symptoms and lead to greater mental wellness.
Therapy for ADHD
Therapy for ADHD involves learning strategies to manage inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. You’ll learn to work with these traits rather than ignoring or suppressing them. You’ll also learn about accommodations that can help at work or school. This can include adopting a more flexible schedule or taking more time on tests.
It’s also important to address the shame and stigma that can come with ADHD. Many people with ADHD experience an intense fear of failure, especially those whose symptoms have caused them difficulty at school or work. This can make it hard to take on new challenges and risks, even if they might be rewarding. A therapist can help you embrace risk-taking and take mistakes in stride.
Medication for ADHD
Medication can be an effective treatment for ADHD. The most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD are stimulants, which can help increase focus and attention. Some non-stimulant medications have also been approved to treat ADHD. A psychiatric provider, such as psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, can help you determine the proper course of treatment.
- Cook, E. H. (2001). Genetics of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, 55–62. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315054315-4
- Thapar, A., Cooper, M., Jefferies, R., & Stergiakouli, E. (2011). What causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Archives of Disease in Childhood, 97(3), 260–265. https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2011-300482
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