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What Is ADHD?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Oct 10, 2023
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnostic term given to children and adults who have problems in four major areas of their lives. These four areas are impulsivity, hyperactivity, boredom and inattention. ADHD is a neurologically-based disorder.

The lower portion of the brain houses an area known as the reticular activating system. This system in the brain keeps the higher brain centers alert and ready for input. With ADHD, there is some evidence that this particular area is not working correctly and that the brain seems to be going to sleep. The hyperactivity is the brain's attempt to stimulate activity and maintain alertness.

Other areas of the brain may also be affected. These include the inhibitory mechanisms of the cortex and the frontal lobes. Each of these particular areas of the brain is associated with a variety of various functions.

There has been some controversy over the diagnosis of ADHD as a neurological condition. Many experts say that there is no evidence whatsoever that ADHD is neurological, as there have been no medical tests to diagnose the deficiency. Also, the criteria encapsulated are too broad to make a specific diagnosis.

There are number of factors that are fairly common in ADHD sufferers. The condition seems to run in families, and there are connections with families who have a history of depression and/or alcoholism. Asthma may be more prevalent in sufferers of ADHD, and affected children often show considerable artistic ability, but may also show difficulty in writing or drawing.

ADHD is five to seven times more common in boys than girls, and it occurs at every level of intelligence. The condition is more commonly diagnosed in the United States than in Europe. Stimulant medication is used more commonly in America as an intervention strategy.

ADHD comes in a variety of forms. It can be subdivided into two categories, inattentive disorder and impulse-hyperactive disorder, or a combination of the two. The term attention deficit order with or without hyperactivity was recently used to describe the condition. No two sufferers of ADHD or attention deficit disorder (ADD) are exactly alike.

About 35% of all children who are referred to mental health clinics are referred with ADHD. The condition effects about 3% of adults and 5% of children. It is thought that 50 to 60% of children will outgrow ADHD by the time they reach their twenties.

The ADHD diagnosis, while an essential step in this journey, should be viewed as a starting point rather than a destination. It opens the door to tailored strategies for individuals to navigate their unique neurodiversity, fostering a more inclusive and empathetic world where individuals with ADHD can thrive. By breaking down the barriers of stigma and misconception, we can create a more supportive environment that encourages those with ADHD to harness their strengths, reach their potential, and contribute meaningfully to society.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon348733 — On Sep 19, 2013

My daughter is seven years old she is very intelligent but her hyperactivity is leading to a lot of problems. Her teacher always complains. I lose my temper and I become physical and I go mad yelling screaming. Her father is always out and I handle her and finally get nothing.

She is hitting and she tells a lot of lies. Now she has started cheating and developing a lot of negative habits. I tell her dad and he gets irritated and finally we both are going mad, but he is not willing to take her to a pediatric psychiatrist. Please help. I don't want to ruin my child's life. One day I try to be calm, then I also lose my temper.

By anon281884 — On Jul 25, 2012

Thank you. I found this made a lot a sense to me. I am going to visit the CHAAD website right now. --Alma

By GreenWeaver — On Jan 20, 2011

SauteePan- I have even heard of teachers telling parents that a child needs to be medicated. So you have to take what a teacher says with a grain of salt.

For example, my son has a teacher that is always cranky. He has excellent grades and even though he goes to a challenging school, he finishes his work early and has a high degree of accuracy.

My son’s doctor says that if a child’s grades are good then there is nothing to worry about because a tell tale sign of ADHD is poor grades.

It is really important to understand the ADHD child because there are a lot of misconceptions of this disorder and it is easy for a teacher to label when it helps a her cause.

I hope to be moving my child to another school because he actually needs more stimulating work.

By SauteePan — On Jan 18, 2011

Comfyshoes-While it is true that a teacher is the first one to mention the problem, it is best to seek the help of a qualified doctor and psychologist because these people are trained in this field teachers are not.

Sometimes teachers label children as having ADHD when in reality they are bored and need a more challenging classroom.

Other times a kid is being a kid and sometimes they have trouble sitting still. I think that a teacher that also has children of her own is a better judge because sometimes teachers get frustrated with certain students and label them as an ADHD child so that the parents can medicate them.

By comfyshoes — On Jan 17, 2011

Crispety- Treating ADHD involves a holistic approach of various interventions. There is medication therapy that can be offered in order to regulate the imbalance in the brain in order for the child to function properly at school.

Medications like Ritalin and Concentra are the most widely used medications. There are some controversies with these medications and some critics feel that not enough information is known about the long term affects of this medication on young children.

Many parents feel that they need this drastic form of intervention in order to help their children perform well at school.

Often ADHD students are underperforming students because they cannot complete the tasks assigned and cannot manage their time properly and often fail as a result.

It is not uncommon for a child with severe ADHD to be retained or held back a year in school. This is why it is important to get information on ADHD as soon as you suspect your child might have this condition.

A child with ADHD in the classroom is really noticeable to a teacher and usually the teacher is the first one to point out the potential problem.

By Crispety — On Jan 15, 2011

Diagnosing ADHD is not easy because the symptoms mirror so many other disorders. It is best to seek an evaluation by a pediatric neurologist that can confirm the condition. Children with ADHD have different development in their brains. This can more easily see in a cat scan because a child afflicted with ADD or ADHD will have prominent differences that cause the inability to focus and concentrate. A psychologist can also evaluate the child to see how severe the ADD is by offering a series of cognitive tests that determine the scope of the child’s cognitive abilities. Both the neurologist and psychologist should be consulted because a comprehensive analysis will provide you with a more accurate diagnosis. You can also check with CHADD which is a nonprofit support group for parents of children afflicted with ADHD.

They offer a wealth of information regarding ADHD treatments and even have an online forum for you to discuss questions with other parents. You would be surprised how similar the cases are.

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