Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK, thought to affect over 5% of children. It is usually diagnosed in early childhood (most commonly between the ages of 3 and 7), although, symptoms often carry on into adulthood. The diagnosis is often made when a child’s circumstances change, such as starting or moving schools; this is because the symptoms are more easily spotted. ADHD is around three times more common in boys than girls. [1]

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a behavioural disorder that is characterised by;

a) Inattention
b) hyperactivity
c) impulsiveness

over a long period of time (over 6 months), to an extent where it affects the sufferer’s daily life and activities.

Adults with ADHD

ADHD used to be considered a childhood condition but it is now recognised that symptoms often persist into adulthood with people that had ADHD as a child (this is not to say that ADHD can’t develop as an adult though this may be down to it not being detected as a child). It is thought that around 60% of those who had ADHD as a child still display symptoms of the condition as an adult.

Part of the problem with diagnosing ADHD in adults is that the symptoms are difficult to define; a lot of this is due to a lack of research into adult ADHD. It has been agreed by experts that it would not be accurate to simply say that the symptoms are the same as those of a child with the condition. This is because certain traits like hyperactivity and inattentiveness affect children and adults differently, for example, hyperactivity tends to decrease as one gets older whereas the inattentiveness may get worse due to the added pressure and stress of life as time goes by. It is also due to ADHD symptoms in adults tending to be more subtle than those of a child.

As with children there are different sets of symptoms depending on the type of ADHD:

Symptoms of Inattentiveness ADHD in adults:

  • Difficulty completing and following up on tasks
  • Difficulty multi- tasking
  • Difficulty starting or changing tasks
  • Procrastination
  • Poor time management and an inability to focus or prioritise
  • Indecision and poor recall with details of tasks
  • A tendency to overlook details- causing tasks to be incorrect or incomplete

Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness in adults:

  • Irritability
  • Making impulsive decisions which sometimes cause irresponsible behaviour
  • Impatient and easily bored
  • Tends to choose active, stimulating jobs
  • May work long hours or take on more work
  • Inappropriate interrupting and poor self control

Adults with ADHD are far more likely to experience problems in relationships, getting and keeping jobs, problems with social interactions and issues with alcohol and substance abuse. Also, ADHD often overlaps with other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and learning difficulties.

Children with ADHD

ADHD can be hard to diagnose as children can all display symptoms similar to those of ADHD at one time or another which is why the diagnosis of this disorder follows a certain criteria. As mentioned above it is nearly always diagnosed in young children. With ADHD, the disorder would not just materialise itself in one place, such as school, but would be apparent in all or most situations. Another key element in diagnosing ADHD is whether the behaviour displayed is at a ‘normal’ level for the child’s age.

ADHD can range from mild to very severe and affects children in different ways. It can cause sleeping problems, problems at school, problems starting or developing relationships and self esteem issues. There is nothing to suggest that ADHD has any effect on a child’s intelligence. The continuation into adulthood is sometimes associated with unemployment, problems with crime and substance abuse, making it vital that the disorder is diagnosed early, so that a treatment plan can be made. [2]

a)     ADHD may be shown in three subtypes;
b)     ADHD mainly inattentive;
c)     ADHD mainly hyperactive- impulsive and
d)     ADHD combined.

ADHD combined is the most common form, whilst ADHD inattentive is more commonly known as ADD (attention deficit disorder).

Girls with ADHD most commonly have the ADHD mainly inattentive form which is possibly the reason the statistics show it is more common in boys as this form of ADHD goes far more often unnoticed than the hyperactive- impulsive type.

Symptoms of Inattentiveness:

  • Failure to complete tasks and so constantly changing the activity
  • Very low concentration/ attention span
  • Appearing forgetful or careless
  • Being easily distracted
  • Not organising tasks well
  • Making clumsy mistakes with tasks or school work
  • Inability to follow instructions

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness:

  • Fidgeting and inability to sit still
  • Talking a lot
  • Moving around a lot
  • Difficulty settling into tasks
  • Inappropriately interrupting
  • Breaking rules with no apparent regard for the consequences
  • Inability to wait their turn or in line
  • Acting ‘impulsively’

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown however, the cause is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

There is a strong link with genetics and ADHD, it is generally accepted that inheritance is the main cause. Studies carried out suggest that parents and siblings of a child with ADHD are around 5 times more likely to have it themselves so there is a clear link there.

There does seem to be a lot of evidence pointing to smoking, drinking or taking drugs whilst pregnant having an influence on whether the unborn child has or will have ADHD, also there seems to be a link with the disorder and premature birth.

Slight differences in the brain in those with ADHD seems to be apparent, the differences lying in the parts of the brains involved with decision making, impulsiveness, focus and attention.

Even factors like watching too much TV when young, having a hearing impairment and diet all seem to play a part.

Treatment Available

There is no cure for ADHD but the treatment is often very effective and makes the disorder manageable and less disruptive to daily life. It is generally recognised that the best treatment for ADHD is using both medication and therapy.

Medication used for ADHD causes short term improvements after each dose and therefore needs to be taken regularly to keep the symptoms down to a minimum. The medication allows someone with ADHD to feel calmer and more relaxed, able to focus and concentrate better (allowing tasks and activities to be completed) and act less impulsively. Medication for this condition would be discussed with a psychiatrist and probably monitored by the sufferer’s GP. There are many restrictions with medication used for ADHD in the treatment of adults.

Therapies for children with ADHD include supportive psychotherapy, giving a child with the disorder or anyone affected by it a chance to speak about how it affects them and any thoughts or fears surrounding it. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also used in the treatment of ADHD as it gives the individuals affected by ADHD a chance to learn new skills and approaches in the way they view their condition and the effect it may have on their lives. Behaviour therapy is also used in this treatment as it teaches the child affected ways to be aware of and control their behaviour by using a reward/punishment system. Social skills training is also useful.

Despite ADHD potentially being very intrusive in people’s lives, with the right therapy and support, it can be controlled and managed. With the right management of this disorder sometimes even the difficulties of the condition can be turned around into positives.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may require help and advice please call the Via Clinic on 01372 363939


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