ADHD: Overview, characteristics, and treatments

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What to know about ADHD

In the United States, approximately 8.4 percent of children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Around 2.5 percent of adults have ADHD.

In some children, ADHD symptoms begin as early as 3 years of age, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

However, many different life events, psychological disorders, and medical conditions can lead to certain characteristics of ADHD. Even if the individual receives a diagnosis, ADHD is manageable and treatment can be highly effective.

In this article, we explore the different treatments for ADHD, as well as its possible causes. We also look at the different specifiers and characteristics of ADHD.

What is ADHD?

While the actual cause of ADHD remains elusive, a person with ADHD experiences a variety of impairments, including difficulty maintaining attention or focusing on a particular task.

Some people with ADHD might have difficulty sitting still, and others may display a combination of different symptoms.

While all people may struggle with paying attention to things they find disinteresting from time to time, those with ADHD may face consistent challenges with maintaining attention and could be quick to follow through on impulses or become easily distracted.

A person with ADHD experiences impulsivity and distraction beyond a level that would be typical for a person’s age.

There are three different specifiers a doctor will add to an ADHD diagnosis to identify its characteristics, including predominantly inattentive ADHD, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, and combined ADHD.

Characteristics and specifiers

Doctors divide the presentation of ADHD into three categories: inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined presentation. Each is described in more detail below.

These do not qualify as different diagnoses. They simply provide additional information on a particular presentation of ADHD to assist the practitioner in managing its effects.

Inattentive: A person with inattentive ADHD is more likely to demonstrate the following characteristics in a way that disrupt:

  • an apparent inability to pay close attention to a task or a tendency to make careless mistakes
  • difficulties with holding focus on activities or tasks
  • giving the appearance of not listening while other people are talking
  • experiencing difficulty with time management and task organization
  • frequently losing items or accessories necessary for daily function
  • becoming distracted easily
  • forgetting to complete tasks and fulfill obligations
  • an avoidance or intense dislike of tasks that require prolonged focus and thought
  • difficulties with following instructions to complete tasks

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: This specifier means that an individual shows more signs of hyperactivity than inattention, including:

  • seeming to be constantly “on-the-go”
  • an inability to remain seated
  • bouts of inappropriate running or climbing
  • difficulties waiting for their turn in a conversation, often finishing other people’s sentences or answering before the end of a question
  • frequently intruding on others, including conversations, activities, or games
  • persistent fidgeting, tapping of the hands and feet, or squirming
  • excessive talking
  • finding it difficult to play or engage in activities without creating excessive noise
  • reluctance to wait for their turn, such as in a line or a turn-based game

Combined: A person with a combined ADHD shows characteristics from both specifiers.

These characteristics interfere with daily life, relationships with others, and success in school or work.

Even if a doctor adds a specifier to a presentation of ADHD, this can change over time. Women are more likely to experience difficulty with inattentive characteristics, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

This could be why females do not often receive a diagnosis. Educators would not describe their symptoms in class as disruptive, as hyperactive characteristics often do not have as much of a presence in female presentations of ADHD.

However, more men receive diagnoses of ADHD overall.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, most children with ADHD receive a diagnosis during elementary school. However, some people may not receive a diagnosis until adolescence or even adulthood.

No specific diagnostic test can identify ADHD. A doctor will conduct examinations to rule out other potential causes, such as hearing or vision problems.

The characteristics of ADHD might also be similar to symptoms of anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, and sleep disorders.

A doctor will often ask questions to establish a behavioral history and obtain the best and most likely diagnosis. These questions are usually for both the person with suspected ADHD and their family or caregivers.

Many children exhibit the high energy and inattention common to people with ADHD.

However, to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, a child needs to demonstrate six of the criteria to an extent greater than medical professionals deem normal for their age over a period of six months, and at a level of severity that directly impacts social and academic function.

People over 17 years of age must demonstrate five criteria to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD.

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