How to Treat ADHD

Four Parts:Learning about ADHDTreating ADHDUsing Everyday Strategies for CopingSeeking Help in School or the Workplace

Many famous people have grappled with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This includes inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Physicist Albert Einstein and cartoonist Walt Disney also had ADHD. So did composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin did, too.[1] Each is considered brilliant and historically important. Each accomplished great things in an era before ADHD was well understood. If you or your loved one has this often frustrating disability, take heart. There are many things you can do to make sure it doesn't stand in the way of having a great life.

Part 1
Learning about ADHD

  1. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 1
    Observe difficulties with attention. There two kinds of ADHD symptoms. For children under 17, at least six of these must be present for an ADHD diagnosis. For older individuals, only five are necessary. The first set of symptoms relate to problems with attention or focus. They include:[2]
    • making careless mistakes, being inattentive to detail
    • having trouble paying attention (tasks, playing)
    • not seeming to pay attention when someone is talking
    • not following through on homework, chores, or jobs; easily sidetracked
    • being organizationally challenged
    • avoiding tasks requiring sustained focus
    • not keeping track of or often losing items such as keys, glasses, etc.
    • being easily distracted
    • frequently forgetting things
  2. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 2
    Look for hyperactivity. The other category ADHD symptoms relate to hyperactivity or a lack of impulse control. Watch for the following:[3]
    • fidgeting or squirming; tapping hands or feet
    • feeling restless; running or climbing inappropriately
    • struggling to stay quiet
    • talking excessively
    • blurting out answers before questions are asked
    • struggling to wait for his or her turn
    • interrupting others
  3. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 3
    Learn the causes of ADHD. The brain of a person with ADHD is slightly different than others. Two structures in particular tend to be smaller: the basal ganglia and the prefrontal cortex.[4]
    • The basal ganglia controls the movement of muscles. It signals which should be working and which should be at rest at any given time.[5]
    • For example, if a child is sitting at a desk in the classroom, the basal ganglia should send a message telling the feet to stay still. In the case of ADHD, the feet may not recieve the message. As such, they might remain in motion. A deficiency of the basal ganglia can also sometimes cause fidgety hand movements. For example, people with ADHD may tap a pencil on a desk, or drum their fingers.
    • The prefrontal cortex is important for conducting higher-order tasks.[6] It is where memory, learning, and attention regulation come together. This area is essential for intellectual functions.[7][8]
    • The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in regulating the neurotransmitter dopamine.[9] Dopamine affects your ability to focus and is usually at lower levels in persons with ADHD.[10][11]
    • Serotonin is another neurotransmitter related to the prefrontal cortex.[12] It affects mood, sleep, and appetite. When serotonin drops too low, depression and anxiety result.[13]
    • Lower levels of dopamine and serotonin can make it harder to focus.[14] As a result, people with ADHD struggle to focus on one thing at a time, and are more easily distracted.[15]
  4. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 4
    Watch out for related conditions. ADHD often occurs alongside other mental-health problems. This is called "comorbidity."[16]
    • One in five people with ADHD also have some other serious disorder. Depression and bipolar disorder are most common.
    • One in three children with ADHD also have a behavioral disorder. These include conduct disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.[17]
    • Learning disabilities and anxiety also commonly appear alongside ADHD.[18]
  5. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 5
    See a doctor for diagnosis. If you or a loved one has many of these traits, you should see a doctor to get a professional opinion. Knowing if ADHD could be the cause of these difficulties will help you choose the right treatment.

Part 2
Treating ADHD

  1. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 6
    Get a prescription for the right medication. For most people with ADHD, medication is an important part of treatment. There are two categories of ADHD medication: stimulants (such as methylphenidate and amphetamine) and non-stimulants (such as guanfacine and atomoxetine).[19]
    • Using stimulants to treat ADHD may not seem like it makes much sense. The parts of the brain they stimulate, however, are responsible for impulse control and focus.[20] Stimulants like Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall can help regulate neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine.
    • Non-stimulant anti-depression medications often used to treat ADHD regulate the same neurotransmitters. However, they do so via a different chemical process.[21] Doctors may prescribe them if stimulants don't work or have harsh side-effects.[22]
    • Deciding on the right medication can be challenging. Different people respond differently to different medications.[23] The effectiveness of some medications can also change during growth spurts, hormonal fluctuations, diet and weight changes, and with the passage of time. The best way to choose the right medication is through conversation with your doctor. Remember that if something doesn't seem to be working, you can talk to your doctor about trying a different option.
    • Some medications are available in extended-release varieties. They release active ingredients gradually over the course of the day. This eliminates the need to take additional doses at school or work.[24]
  2. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 7
    Eat a diet that counteracts ADHD. Some foods can reduce the effects of the hormonal deficiencies that are typically part of ADHD. Here are some suggestions
    • Complex carbohydrates can increase serotonin levels. This can mean improved mood, sleep, and appetite.[25] Try to eat foods like whole grains, green vegetables, starchy vegetables, and beans. These foods release energy gradually.[26] Avoid simple carbs like sugars, honey, jelly, candy, soda, etc.[27] These can produces a short-term serotonin spike,[28] but do more harm than good over the long run.
    • A diet rich in protein can improve focus. Try to include several proteins over the course of the day to keep dopamine levels high.[29] Good sources of protein include meat, fish, nuts, legumes and beans.[30]
    • Take zinc. Zinc promotes lower levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity.[31] Eat seafood, poultry, fortified cereals and other foods with a high zinc content, and/or take zinc supplements.
    • Eating certain spices may also help. Saffron may counter depression, while cinnamon can help with attention and focus.[32]
  3. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 8
    Avoid foods that exacerbate ADHD. Other foods can sometimes make the condition worse. For example:
    • Avoid “bad fats” such as trans fats and those found in fried foods, burgers, and pizza. Choose foods high in omega-3 fatty acids instead. Good sources include salmon, walnuts, and avocados.[33] These may help lower hyperactivity and improve organizational skills.
    • Avoid food with dyes and food coloring. Some studies suggest there may be link between food dyes and ADHD symptoms.[34] Red dye in particular may be a problem.
    • Reduce intake of wheat and dairy, sugar, processed foods, and additives. These foods may have a negative impact on ADHD symptoms.[35]
  4. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 9
    Get therapy for ADHD. A good therapist can help you and/or your loved ones manage the challenges of ADHD. Therapy often begins by analyzing the family structure. The therapist will often suggest changes to create environment that works with the brain functions of a person with ADHD.
    • Therapy also provides a safe place for family members to vent their frustrations in a healthy way. It is a venue work out issues with professional guidance.[36]
    • Experts often recommend that preschoolers with ADHD receive behavioral therapy.[37] This approach teaches people how to change behavior and control impulses.
    • Adults with ADHD generally benefit from psychotherapy.[38] This helps them accept who they are while seeking improvements to their situation.
    • People with ADHD benefit greatly from learning more about their condition. Therapy helps them understand that they are not alone in their struggles.
  5. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 10
    Get plenty of exercise. Exercise stimulates production of many of the same neurotransmitters as ADHD medication. Serious workouts are a great way to regulate your brain chemistry, but even a few 30 minute walks each week can make a big difference.[39]
    • Specifically, exercise stimulates production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. All these can help boost attention and focus.[40]

Part 3
Using Everyday Strategies for Coping

  1. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 11
    Organize the environment. People with ADHD are constantly trying to make sense of their environments. Organizing the home is a great way to start.
    • People with ADHD often have trouble remembering where they put things. Having designated bins, tubs, shelves, or hooks for different types of items can make life much easier.
    • This is especially important for children, who benefit from well organized bedrooms and play areas.
    • Help children stay organized by providing color coded bins and tubs.[41] You can also label these with pictures or words describing the types of items that belong inside.[42]
    • Similar organizational techniques can also benefit adults in the workplace.[43]
  2. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 12
    Minimize distractions. People with ADHD also have trouble filtering out distractions in the environment. Here are a few tips for reducing distractions in the home or workplace.
    • Turn off the TV and stereo when you are not watching or listening. Both of these can be distracting. This is especially important when the person with ADHD is trying to focus or when you are trying to communicate with children.[44]
    • Adjust lighting. Lighting that creates shadows or unusual patterns can be distracting for people with ADHD.[45] Make lighting in your home consistent, and replace flickering bulbs right away. Steer clear of fluorescent lighting, as the hum of the bulbs can also make it hard to concentrate.[46]
    • Avoid strong scents. Distinctive smells can also make it hard for someone with ADHD to focus.[47] Avoid scented air fresheners, as well as perfumes and colognes.
  3. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 13
    Establish a routine. People with ADHD do well with consistent schedules. Doing the same thing at the same time and in the same place every day makes it easier to remember and focus on important tasks.
    • For children, having specific time set aside for homework and chores is helpful. It can also reduce arguments around these topics.
    • Breaking routine tasks down into small, manageable chunks also helps. People with ADHD have trouble holding lots of instructions in their head at the same time. Even things that seem simple can be simplified. For example loading the dishwasher can be broken up into loading the top rack, bottom rack, and silverware.[48]
    • For young people with ADHD, praise and small rewards at each step can help reinforce the pattern.[49] For deviations, immediate and consistent discipline can also help.[50] Make the sure the consequences for misbehavior are the same every time, and come quickly after the behavior.
    • Creating structure during school breaks is especially important for children and teens.[51] Encourage them to join organized activities that have regular meetings. Good examples include summer stock plays, sports teams, or clubs.
  4. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 14
    Use a planner. Keeping a planner or calendar can be very helpful for people with ADHD. This can be a place to record the daily routine, as well as specific tasks like homework or work meetings.
    • A planner is most helpful if you check and update it often.[52]
    • You can use apps or online planners with visible or audible reminders to make sure you don't forget appointments or scheduled tasks.
    • For children, its a good idea to ask teachers to initial the planner each day to make sure the student has recorded homework correctly.

Part 4
Seeking Help in School or the Workplace

  1. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 15
    Get help in school. Schools provide many services for children with ADHD. These services range from extra time on exams to self-contained classrooms with specially trained teachers and aides.[53]
    • Communicate with teachers to make sure they understand the nature of the child's condition. Some teachers mistake ADHD for stubbornness or a bad attitude.
    • Request a special education evaluation. This will allow you to work with the school to create an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the student. This document specifies goals for the student, as well as interventions and strategies for reaching those goals.[54] Make sure to submit the evaluation request in writing.[55]
    • You'll create an IEP in conferences with school officials. Do not allow the school to pressure you into signing a "one-size-fits-all" IEP. It should be tailored to the needs of the individual student.[56]
  2. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 16
    Get help seeking work. There are also may services available for people with ADHD who are seeking employment. These are available through schools, state agencies, and non-profit organizations.
    • A variety of transitional services are available to help school-aged children apply for college, trade school, or jobs. This includes help with filling out applications, interviewing, and independent living. Transitional services should be the focus of IEPs for students over the age of 16.[57]
    • All states in the US offer vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. These are services for people with disabilities who need help seeking or maintaining employment.[58] VR counselors can sometimes help with financial assistance to a college or vocational training school. For example, a VR program might sponsor truck-driving classes to get a commercial driver's license. Look on your state government's website to see what services are available.
    • Other VR services might include computer of job skills training. A VR program might provide hearing aids or other adaptive technology. It might also offer help completing applications or creating resumes, and practicing interviewing skills.[59]
  3. Image titled Treat ADHD Step 17
    Get help keeping work. People with ADHD often struggle to keep jobs. Issues with focus, time management, and sometimes social skills create barriers to gainful employment. Here are a few tips for getting help:
    • Communicate with supervisors and coworkers about the limitations that come with ADHD. If they know about the condition, they are more likely to be compassionate and make allowances for it.[60]
    • VR services also provide training that can make it easier to function at work. They can help with job skills and organization. Again, check the state's website to see what services are available.[61]
    • You can hire a job coach who will walk through your workday with you. This person will look for problems and make recommendations to you and your boss for making your work more efficient and productive.[62] VR services often provide or pay for job coaching. Non-profit organizations in your area may also provide this service.


  • Eventually, you might be able to phase out the medication, reserving it for occasional usage. For example, someone might stop taking medication because his or her symptoms are under control. In a particularly stressful situation, such as college entrance exams or a job interview, however, she or he might opt to take the medication to ease anxiety.
  • There are many support groups available for people with ADHD. These organizations can help you or your loved one cope with the daily challenges of this condition. Among these are groups like the Attention Deficit Disorder Association and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.[63][64]
  • There are also a number of informational resources you can turn to for help. For example, ADDitude Magazine is a free online resource that provides information, strategies, and support for adults with ADHD, children with ADHD, and parents of persons with ADHD.[65] ADHD & You also provides resources for adults with ADHD, parents of children with ADHD, teachers and healthcare providers who serve persons with ADHD.[66] It includes a section of online videos for teachers and guidelines for school staff to work more successfully with students who have ADHD.


  • Talk to your doctor before introducing any major dietary changes, especially those involving supplements.
  • Stimulant medication can have side effects including decreased appetite and trouble sleeping. Sleep issues can sometimes be resolved by lowering the dosage or adding a prescription to improve sleeping such as clonidine or melatonin.[67]

Sources and Citations

  1. The ADHD Update: Understanding Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein and Laura Silverstein Nunn (2008).
  2. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
Show more... (64)

Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders