Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Hyperkinetic Disorder is a complex condition that is mainly diagnosed in childhood, but it can persist into adolescence and adulthood.
Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is characterised by symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.
- Hyperactivity can include being unable to sit still, or finding it difficult to to participate in activities quietly. Sometimes, people with ADHD can appear to be “on the go” all of the time, or act as if “driven by a motor”.
- Impulsivity might include interrupting or intruding (e.g. butting into conversations or games), having difficulty waiting one’s turn or talking excessively.
- Inattention related symptoms might include finding it difficult to pay attention to details (making careless mistakes), being unable to remain focused on a specific task or having problems following instructions and organising activities.
While all of these behaviours can be seen as part of normal behaviour, (we can all be impatient, over-enthusiastic, lose our concentration or find it difficult to focus), for a health professional to make a diagnosis of ADHD, these symptoms have to be severe and cause problems for the individual across their home, school/work and social life.
ADHD symptoms start in childhood, but are not always recognised and treated at this age. For some, symptoms reduce or are less obvious by adolescence, but for others symptoms and impairment continue into adulthood.
ADHD is a complex disorder and can affect individuals in different ways - while most children with ADHD will have difficulties in hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, some may have problems only with attention.
The disorder affects some children more severely than others, and other problems can occur alongside ADHD such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), conduct problems, tics and learning difficulties such as Dyslexia.
Some people with ADHD may also have emotional problems such as anxiety or depression.
If parents become concerned about a child, their GP will be able to offer advice and may be able to refer the child to a specialist. Schools may also raise concerns and may be able to refer to a specialist or suggest visiting the GP.
Getting a diagnosis of ADHD requires a full and detailed assessment, usually by a specialist paediatrician or child and adolescent psychiatrist - unfortunately, there is no quick and easy test for ADHD.
Assessments often gather information from a number of different sources and may include observations and reports of the child’s behaviour at home and school.
There are a number of different approaches to helping people with ADHD, which can be effective in managing the condition.
- Following an ADHD diagnosis, UK guidelines suggest that families or carers are given information about ADHD.
- Environmental changes to minimise the impact of ADHD on day to day life are also recommended. These may include social skills training, or small changes at school, such as moving children with ADHD to the front of the class to eliminate distractions and help them focus.
- At home, parents can adopt different ways of dealing with behaviours associated with ADHD, such as introducing reward charts.
If symptoms are still causing significant difficulties after these changes have been made, then medication may be offered. Medication has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of ADHD, enabling children to concentrate and focus more effectively and reducing hyperactivity.
Common medications used to treat the condition include Ritalin, Equasym, Methylphenidate, Stattera, Concerta and Atomoxetine.
These medications generally start to work shortly after each dosem and do not have a long lasting effect. They can be very effective, but as with any medication, there is a chance of side effects.
Not all children with ADHD will need medication, whilst those taking medication will also need educational or psychological treatment.
Tips for Helping a Loved One with AHHD
Remember that your child isn’t being wilful or deliberately difficult - try to keep in mind that ADHD is a disorder and these behaviours are part of it.
- Praise your child for good behaviour and look for their strengths - it will boost their self confidence and also make you feel better.
- Get support - many parents and young people find joining groups where you can discuss issues with others are very helpful.
- Use rewards and discipline - reward charts for positive behaviour and effective, consistent discipline for misbehaviour can help address behaviour.
- Keep instructions simple and consistent - children with ADHD find it difficult to process many things at the same time. Try to break up long strings of instructions.
- Write things down. Stress the importance of writing down homework tasks - and bringing homework books home too. It will make it much easier to keep on top of tasks and what’s required.
- Try to be organised yourself - if everything has its place and your child is encouraged to use that place, it will be easier for them to remember where things are and be more organised.
National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) - www.ncmh.info/adhd
Contains more useful information and resources on ADHD
The Royal College of Psychiatrists - www.rcpsych.ac.uk
Information on ADHD in children and adults, including downloadable leaflets. Search “ADHD” from the homepage
NHS Choices - www.nhs.uk
A comprehensive guide to ADHD from the NHS. Search “ADHD” from the homepage.
Adult ADD UK (AADD-UK) - www.aadduk.org
Information and resources for adults with ADHD
Journeys - journeysonline.org.uk
Samaritans - samaritans.org
Available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.