What is ADHD?
Learn more about ADHD and how it can be treated and managed
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a commonly diagnosed disorder which can be managed in a variety of different ways, including but not always involving medication. Children with ADHD tend to be hyperactive and have difficulty controlling their impulses, as well as having trouble paying attention.
ADHD is more common in boys than it is in girls and is mostly diagnosed in early school years, when it is noticed (mainly in school) that they are having problems paying attention. When ADHD progresses into adulthood, adults might have trouble with organisational skills and holding down a job. Relationships and self-esteem also are at risk of being affected by ADHD.
Are there different types of ADHD?
There are three categories of ADHD which a child could fall into:
- ADHD predominantly Inattentive presentation
- ADHD predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive presentation
- Combined Type – with symptoms of Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
Each category of ADHD brings with it different symptoms.
People with inattentive ADHD:
- Can be easily distracted
- Don’t always follow direction or finish tasks easily
- May not appear to be listening
- Can make mistakes making them appear careless
- May be forgetful about daily activities
- May have problems with organising daily tasks
- Often lose things
- Tend to daydream
People with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD:
- Squirm, fidget or bounce when they’re sitting down
- Don’t always stay seated for long
- Have trouble being quiet
- May be considered restless
- Often talk excessively
- Always ‘on the go’
- May have trouble waiting their turn for things
- Blurt out answers
- Interrupt others
What are the causes
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, yet there are a combination of factors which are thought to be responsible.
ADHD is known to run in families and is believed to be passed from one generation to the next by genetics. Parents and siblings of someone with ADHD are more likely to have ADHD themselves.
However, how ADHD is inherited is complex and cannot be related to a single genetic fault.
Brain function and structure
Research has shown some small differences between brains of those with ADHD, and those without. The significance of this is yet unclear, but there is thought to be a small difference in sizes of different parts of the brain. Other research has suggested that those with ADHD may have an imbalance in neurotransmitters in their brains, or that the chemicals do not work as they should.
There are certain groups of people who are thought to be more at risk of developing ADHD than others. These risk groups include:
- Those who were born at a low birthweight
- Those who were born prematurely (born before the 37th week of pregnancy)
- Those with epilepsy
- Those with brain damage – this damage could have been developed in the womb or later in life through a brain injury
ADHD can be treated with medication or therapy, but a combination of both is often the best course of action.
As well as taking medication, therapy is another form of learning to live with an ADHD diagnosis. Some popular types of therapy include:
- Psychoeducation – knowing more about ADHD means that you know how to manage it
- Parent training and education programmes
- Social skills training
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Structure and routine
Improving structure and routine is an accepted way to manage ADHD symptoms. Some young people with ADHD struggle to adapt when they move to college – the routine of their daily lives is turned upside down.
When a young person with ADHD goes to college, it is recommended that they start a new routine as soon as possible to fit in with their lecture times and other commitments. Structuring the day is key to managing your ADHD in a way that’s suitable for each person.
Other possible treatments for ADHD
Although these are not proven to work, some people claim that these methods help them take charge of their ADHD. You should not change any of these aspects of your life without first consulting a doctor, especially if you are on medication.
People with ADHD should eat a healthy, balanced diet, and food should not be cut out without first asking the opinion of a doctor.
Some studies suggest the benefits of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to those diagnosed with ADHD. As before though, make sure you talk to your doctor about this before taking supplements. However it is thought that the benefits may be small and this is not a main recommendation in the treatment of ADHD.
Always consult your doctor before taking anything you’ve never taken before in an attempt to manage your ADHD.
Living with ADHD
There are many people in Ireland living with varying degrees of ADHD and if you have received a diagnosis of ADHD there are supports available.
HADD Ireland is a support group for people with ADHD.