Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by executive functioning impairment in inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Everyone, especially children, experiences times when they struggle to sit still and pay attention. However, for about 11% of school-aged children, the impairment on their executive functioning skills are so pervasive and persistent that they interfere with all areas of life. More than 75% of these children continue to experience significant symptoms in adulthood.
There are three types of ADHD, individuals whose primary difficulty is with inattention, those whose primary difficulty is with hyperactivity and impulsivity, and individuals with a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Common symptoms of inattention include: frequent failure to give close attention to details, making careless mistakes, difficulty holding attention on tasks or play activities, difficulty listening, difficulty following through on instructions and finishing tasks, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, avoidance of tasks requiring sustained mental effort like homework, losing and misplacing items, distractibility, and forgetfulness.
Common symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include: frequent fidgeting, squirming and leaving seat, running around or climbing in inappropriate situations, feeling restless, difficulty playing quietly, acting as if “driven by a motor”, talking excessively, blurting out answers before the question is completed, struggling to wait for their turn, and interrupting or intruding on others.
Typically the diagnosis process involves a screening from the pediatrician or general practitioner who will refer the individual to a clinical psychologist for a psychological evaluation. The evaluation is a series of tests to determine if ADHD is an appropriate diagnosis, if there are co-occurring conditions, and what treatment interventions would be useful.
Individuals with ADHD can live successful, happy, and fulfilling lives. However, without proper diagnosis and treatment, ADHD can have serious consequences including academic difficulties, family stress, social difficulties, job failure, and delinquency.
In addition, individuals with ADHD have high rates of co-occurring conditions including learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. There are a variety of treatment options which should be tailored to the unique needs of each person based on psychological testing results.
Common treatment interventions include behavioral interventions (e.g. counseling), medication, educational and work supports, and working with an ADHD coach to build executive functioning skills. More detailed information on ADHD diagnosis and treatment can be found on the NAMI (www.nami.org) and CHADD (https://chadd.org) websites.