What is ADHD?
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in childhood, with rates estimated around 7% in school-aged children.1 ADHD is also common in adults, with rates estimated around 4.4% or 8-9 million American adults.2 Read more about adult ADHD.
ADHD is thought to be caused by biological factors in the brain, specifically neurotransmitter (chemical) activity in certain parts of the brain. Brain studies have shown that in people with ADHD, the brain areas that control attention are less active compared to people without.
ADHD is also thought to have a strong genetic basis with rates estimated between 25-35% if one other person in the family is also diagnosed with ADHD.
But what is it exactly? ADHD is a common cognitive disorder that results in difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. But it is not that simple. There are actually three different subtypes of ADHD that a child may present with.
- The first is called Predominantly Inattentive Type, which is when the child mostly has difficulties with attention. This is also commonly referred to as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder. Some studies say that this type is more common in females than males, and that this type persists more through teens and adulthood than the other types.
- The second is called Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, in which the child mostly has difficulties with remaining seated, waiting his turn, or is often very overactive. This type is more commonly found in young boys compared to girls or older adolescents and adults.
- The last is called Combined Type, in which the child has difficulties with both inattention and hyperactivity.
So how do you know if your child has ADHD?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does your child have difficulty with homework?
- Does your child have trouble getting started on school projects?
- Does your child often talk during class or get up out of their seat?
- Does your child’s mood seem to change quickly or “out of the blue?”
- Does your child constantly change activities or quickly get bored?
Some children with ADHD may also have a lower frustration tolerance or have more temper tantrums. Often times, children with ADHD act before thinking, which can negatively affect their social relationships. In addition, many children with ADHD struggle more in school because they have a hard time maintaining attention throughout class or when trying to complete their homework. These difficulties can lead to lower self-esteem in childhood and adolescence. There are effective treatments for ADHD and these related difficulties, read more about ADHD treatment.
It is hard to make an accurate diagnosis of ADHD in children younger than 4 or 5. But if you are concerned, you can still seek a consultation with a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating ADHD to learn more about it.
If your child is struggling with any of these symptoms, it is important to seek a referral. Because many symptoms of ADHD are extremely common and may be related to other factors, it is important to seek a thorough evaluation from an expert. Learn more about ADHD evaluations and testing.
- American Psychological Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, Text Revision). Washington, DC: Author.
- Jaska, Peter (1998) Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 16, 2012 from http://www.add.org/?page=ADHD_Fact_Sheet