What Really Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? (ADHD)
You’ve probably heard someone joke about having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they are having trouble focusing. Perhaps you’ve heard someone make a passing comment about ADHD when someone else just can’t sit still. Many people think that ADHD simply looks like a child or young person who can’t be quiet and get tasks done, someone who gets in trouble at school often, or who is talkative.
Many people know of or have heard of the term ‘ADHD’, yet it is often misunderstood and surrounded by myths. We’ll explore below what ADHD is, how is presents, how people can manage it, the positives of it, as well as resources for parents and families.
Did you know that an estimated 1.2 million Australians are affected by ADHD?
That means that 1 in 20 Australians have it. Around 298,00 Aussie kids and teens between 4 and 17 have been diagnosed. Despite this, research suggests 1 in 4 people with ADHD have not been diagnosed. And, just like any other disorder, it is complex and multifaceted. It doesn’t always look like one particular set of symptoms, one personality type or the same specific ongoing behaviours for everyone. So, what DOES it look like?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder; a disorder that primarily affects the neurological system and brain.
Put simply, it causes someone to have a bit more trouble in certain areas of functioning that others without ADHD may not have. It shows patterns of inattentive, impulsive, and sometimes hyperactive behaviour. Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out if a child’s actions or the way they behave is related to ADHD or not. This of course is true for anyone of any age. However, for a professional to diagnose someone with it, the symptoms they experience need to negatively affect them enough for it to impair function, cause distress (for them and/or others), there must be a certain number of symptoms, etc. You can leave the diagnosing part up to a professional! Just get your child through the door first, if you’re concerned about their behaviour.
Generally, symptoms may include:
- Impulsivity, e.g saying things or making decisions without thinking them through first
- Problems with organising, prioritising and multitasking
- Trouble focusing on tasks, such as in class, reading and writing, and paying attention to details
- Being easily distracted or daydreaming
- Excessive activity or restlessness, e.g fidgeting, interrupting, impatience, needing to move a lot
- Low frustration tolerance and difficulty coping with stress
- Mood swings and emotional turmoil
- Problems following through and completing tasks, and/or avoidance of tasks that take continuous efforts, e.g homework
- Trouble following instructions and remembering things
Unfortunately, the emotional regulation difficulties that can sometimes come with ADHD can also result in higher levels of depression, anxiety, low self esteem and more in those who have it.
It’s important to note that diagnostic criteria only requires people to have a certain amount of symptoms to be diagnosed. As such, two people may have the same diagnosis of ADHD, however their symptoms may differ.
Okay…So What Causes it?
Currently, no one really knows for sure what causes ADHD. It is likely that a number of factors, environmental and genetic, contribute to it. It is also a highly heritable disorder, as shown by genetic studies.
There is zero evidence that ADHD is caused by poor parenting, traumatic experiences, or stress within the family. Children with ADHD are also not just “naughty” or “difficult”.
What Else Do Studies Tell Us?
- 83% of children have been subject to bullying, with 31% of their parents describing it as frequent or very frequent
- 30% of parents changed their child’s school due to ADHD
- ADHD is the most prevalent mental health disorder in school-aged children
The Positives of ADHD – Yes, They Exist!
ADHD may sound scary and negative, but it can be managed and does come with positives.
These may include:
Being highly imaginative and creative
Enthusiastic, fun and energetic
Curious and adventurous
The ability to hyper focus
Managing ADHD: Treatments and More
Early diagnosis and support will result in a better long-term outcome for those, particularly children, with ADHD. It is really only when ADHD is unmanaged that the symptoms can have significantly negative impacts, both short term and in the long term. In general symptoms can range from mild to severe however, so not everyone will struggle severely with ADHD, but they may have slightly more difficulty in certain areas and with certain tasks. This itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – humans everywhere are different and have different strengths and weaknesses.
There are several different treatment options for those with ADHD.
Therapy and medication are the most commonly used treatments for ADHD. Often different health professionals are involved, which includes doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, paediatricians, family therapists. Treatment depends on what route you decide to go down and who you go to first for help. Treatments include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Social and communication skills, Psychiatry, psychoeducation, behaviour therapy.
Health professionals can provide positive parenting strategies, skills for parents and teachers. It focuses on helping parents interact with their child in a way that will elicit desired behaviours and discourage behaviours that cause the child trouble as well as the parents etc.
They can also help children work on:
- Skills for following instructions and completing tasks
- Time management and priority skills
- Skills for managing emotions and stress
The aim of therapy is to provide children with the skills that will continue to benefit them even as they grow, both in understanding their own thoughts and actions as well as managing any negative aspects of their ADHD. Medications are often turned to when symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity and lack of focus persist despite therapies. There are a range of medication options. You can also speak to your GP about any concerns you have and may refer you to health professionals and organisations that can provide the support and treatment you are seeking.
Queensland Support Services
Queensland Mental Health Services
Support group contact information, Books, websites and factsheets, Gov’t initiatives, GP and Specialist directory.
Variety of resources for educators, parents and carers.
Parenting course, ADHD directory of practitioners, services and more.
General ADHD information
A Doctor’s short answer