How to Define ADHD

Two Parts:Understanding the BasicsUnderstand the Challenges of ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common medical issue. By 2011, about 11% of school-aged children in the U.S. had been diagnosed with ADHD, which equates to 6.4 million kids. Of these, about two-thirds were boys.[1][2] Important people throughout history have had ADHD, such as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Walt Disney, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Benjamin Franklin.[3] ADHD has distinctive characteristics, types, and causes that can help you understand it better.

Part 1
Understanding the Basics

  1. Image titled Define ADHD Step 1
    Observe possible ADHD behaviors. Children are typically hyperactive and erratic, which can make ADHD hard to notice. Adults can also deal with ADHD as well, and manifest the same symptoms. If you feel that your child or loved one acts differently or more out of control than normal, he may have ADHD. There are signs to look for in case you think your child or loved one may have ADHD.
    • Notice if he daydreams a lot, loses things a lot, forgets about things, can't keep still, is excessively talkative, takes unnecessary risks, makes careless decisions and mistakes, cannot or has trouble resisting temptation, has trouble taking turns in games, or has a problem getting along with other people.
    • If your child or loved one has any number of these issues, you may need to have him or her checked for ADHD.[4]
  2. Image titled Define ADHD Step 2
    Have a professional diagnose ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), currently in its fifth edition, which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders such as ADHD. It states there are three presentations of ADHD and that several symptoms must have been demonstrated by the age of 12, in more than one setting, for at least six months to qualify for a diagnosis. A diagnosis must be made by a trained professional.
    • Symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level and be seen as interrupting normal functioning on the job or in social or school settings. For hyperactive-impulsive presentation, some symptoms must be seen as disruptive. Symptoms also cannot be better explained by or attributable to another mental or psychotic disorder.
    • The DSM-5 criteria require that children 16 and under must have at least six symptoms in a category to gain the diagnosis while those 17 and older need five symptoms.[5]
  3. Image titled Define ADHD Step 3
    Recognize the inattentive symptoms of ADHD. There are three presentations of ADHD. One is inattentive ADHD, which has a distinct set of symptoms. People with this form of ADHD will have at least five to six of the symptoms, which present when the person:
    • Makes careless mistakes and is inattentive to detail in work, school, or with other activities.
    • Has trouble paying attention during tasks or while playing.
    • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention when someone is talking directly to him or her.
    • Doesn’t follow through with homework, chores, or jobs and is easily sidetracked.
    • Is organizationally challenged.
    • Avoids tasks requiring sustained focus, such as schoolwork.
    • Can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, or other possessions.
    • Is easily distracted.
    • Is forgetful.[6]
  4. Image titled Define ADHD Step 4
    Notice the hyperactive-impulsive symptoms of ADHD. The symptoms of this presentation have to be so significant that they are considered disruptive for them to be considered viable ADHD symptoms. The behaviors to look out for include:
    • Being fidgety or squirmy, such as constantly tapping the hands or feet.
    • The child running or climbing inappropriately.
    • The adult constantly feeling restless.
    • Struggling to play quietly or do quiet activities.
    • Being constantly on the go without breaks.
    • Excessive talking.
    • Blurting out even before questions are asked.
    • Struggling to wait for his turn.
    • Interrupting others or inserting himself into others’ discussions or games.[7]
    • Being very impatient.
    • Saying inappropriate comments, showing emotions without restraint, or acting without regards to consequences.[8]
  5. Image titled Define ADHD Step 5
    Look for combined symptoms of ADHD. For combined presentations of ADHD, the individual will present with at least six symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. This is the most common type of ADHD that is diagnosed in children.[9]
  6. Image titled Define ADHD Step 6
    Know the causes of ADHD. The jury’s still out on the causes of ADHD, but it’s generally accepted that genetics play a large role, with certain DNA anomalies occurring more often in people with ADHD. In addition, studies show correlations between children with ADHD to prenatal alcohol and smoking as well as to early childhood exposure to lead.[10]
    • There are still studies being done to find the specific causes of ADHD, but the causes in these kinds of disorders, which present so differently in each case, can be hard to decipher.[11]

Part 2
Understand the Challenges of ADHD

  1. Image titled Define ADHD Step 7
    Learn about the basal ganglia. Scientific analyses show the brains of persons with ADHD are slightly different in that two structures tend to be smaller. The first, the basal ganglia, regulates the movement of muscles and signals which should be working and which should be at rest during given activities.
    • This can manifest through fidgeting parts of the body that should be at rest or incessantly tapping the hand, foot, or a pencil when no movement is needed.[12][13]
  2. Image titled Define ADHD Step 8
    Learn the role of the prefrontal cortex. The second brain structure that is smaller than normal in a person with ADHD is the prefrontal cortex. This is the brain’s hub for conducting higher-order executive tasks, such as memory, learning, and attention regulation, and where theses tasks come together to help us function intellectually.
    • The prefrontal cortex influences the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is tied directly to the ability to focus and tends to be at lower levels in persons with ADHD. Serotonin, another neurotransmitter found in the prefrontal cortex, impacts mood, sleep, and appetite.[14][15][16]
    • A smaller-than-normal prefrontal cortex with lower-than-optimal dopamine and serotonin means greater struggles to focus and effectively tune out all the extraneous stimuli flooding the brain all at once. Persons with ADHD struggle to focus on a single thing at a time; the plethora of stimuli cause a high degree of distractibility as well as decreased impulse control.[17][18]
  3. Image titled Define ADHD Step 9
    Recognize the consequences of going undiagnosed. If individuals with ADHD fail to obtain special services that allow them to receive a quality education, they have a higher probability of ending up unemployed, homeless, or incarcerated. The government estimates that about 10% of adults with learning disabilities are unemployed, and it is likely the percentage of persons with ADHD who cannot find or retain jobs is equally high as they tend to struggle with attention, organization, and managing their time as well as social skills, all of which are considered essential characteristics by employers.[19]
    • While it’s hard to gauge percentages of current homeless or unemployed persons with ADHD, one study estimated that 40% of men serving long-term prison sentences may have ADHD.[20] In addition, persons with ADHD have a greater propensity for falling into substance abuse, and it’s harder to break away from that addiction.
    • It is estimated that almost half the individuals that have been diagnosed with ADHD self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.[21]
  4. Image titled Define ADHD Step 10
    Give support. It’s important that parents, educators, and mental health providers find ways to guide children and adults with ADHD in overcoming their deficiencies so they can have safe, healthy, fulfilling lives. The more support an individual has, the safer he will feel. Get your child diagnosed as soon as you suspect he might have ADHD so he can begin proper treatment.
    • Children may grow out of some of the hyperactive symptoms, but the inattentive symptoms generally last a lifetime. The inattentive issues can cause other problems as they get older, which may need to be treated separately.[22]
  5. Image titled Define ADHD Step 11
    Notice other conditions. In most cases, an ADHD diagnosis is challenging enough on its own. However, one out of every five people with ADHD is diagnosed with another serious disorder. These can include depression or bipolar disorder, which are common partners to ADHD. In addition, one third of children with ADHD also have a behavioral disorder, such as a conduct disorder or oppositional defiance disorder.[23]
    • ADHD tends to pair up with learning disabilities and anxiety, too.[24]
    • Depression and anxiety often manifest during high school, when pressures from home, school, and their peers intensifies. This can also make the symptoms of ADHD get worse as well.[25]

Sources and Citations

  3. The ADHD Update: Understanding Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein and Laura Silverstein Nunn (2008).
Show more... (22)

Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders