OverviewAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old.
The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems.
People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.
Read more about the symptoms of ADHD.
Many children go through phases where they're restless or inattentive. This is often completely normal and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.
However, you should consider raising your concerns with your child's teacher, their school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or GP if you think their behaviour may be different from most children their age.
It's also a good idea to speak to your GP if you're an adult and you think you may have ADHD but weren't diagnosed with the condition as a child.
Read more about diagnosing ADHD.
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. Research has also identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD when compared with those without the condition.
Other factors suggested as potentially having a role in ADHD include:
- being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy)
- having a low birthweight
- smoking, or alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy
ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it's more common in people with learning difficulties.
Read more about the causes of ADHD.
How ADHD is treated
Although there's no cure for ADHD, it can be managed with appropriate educational support, advice and support for parents and affected children, alongside medication, if necessary.
Medication is often the first treatment offered to adults with ADHD, although psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also help.
Read more about treating ADHD.
Living with ADHD
Looking after a child with ADHD can be challenging, but it's important to remember that they cannot help their behaviour.
Some issues that may arise in day-to-day life include:
- getting your child to sleep at night
- getting ready for school on time
- listening to and carrying out instructions
- being organised
- social occasions
Adults with ADHD may also find they have similar problems, and some may have issues with relationships or social interaction.
Read about living with ADHD for information on coping with these issues.
SymptomsAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be categorised into 2 types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Most people with ADHD have problems that fall into both these categories, but this is not always the case.
For example, some people with the condition may have problems with inattentiveness, but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This form of ADHD is also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD). ADD can sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms may be less obvious.
Symptoms in children and teenagers
The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and they're usually noticeable before the age of 6. They occur in more than one situation, such as at home and at school.
The main signs of inattentiveness are:
- having a short attention span and being easily distracted
- making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
- appearing forgetful or losing things
- being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
- appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
- constantly changing activity or task
- having difficulty organising tasks
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:
- being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
- constantly fidgeting
- being unable to concentrate on tasks
- excessive physical movement
- excessive talking
- being unable to wait their turn
- acting without thinking
- interrupting conversations
- little or no sense of danger
These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child's life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.
Symptoms in adults
In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD.
As ADHD is a developmental disorder, it's believed it cannot develop in adults without it first appearing during childhood. But it's known that symptoms of ADHD often persist from childhood into a person's teenage years and then adulthood.
Any additional problems or conditions experienced by children with ADHD, such as depression or dyslexia, may also continue into adulthood.
By the age of 25, an estimated 15% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children still have a full range of symptoms, and 65% still have some symptoms that affect their daily lives.
The symptoms in children and teenagers are sometimes also applied to adults with possible ADHD. But some specialists say the way in which inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness affect adults can be very different from the way they affect children.
For example, hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults, while inattentiveness tends to get worse as the pressures of adult life increase. Adult symptoms of ADHD also tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.
Some specialists have suggested the following as a list of symptoms associated with ADHD in adults:
- carelessness and lack of attention to detail
- continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- poor organisational skills
- inability to focus or prioritise
- continually losing or misplacing things
- restlessness and edginess
- difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn
- blurting out responses and often interrupting others
- mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
- inability to deal with stress
- extreme impatience
- taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously