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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)1 is a common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors, act without thinking about results, and/or be overly active.

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Types of ADHD

Doctors have identified three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation—An individual has problems organizing or finishing tasks, paying attention to details, following instructions or conversations, focusing, and remembering details of daily routines
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation—An individual fidgets and talks a lot; has trouble sitting still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework); constantly runs, jumps, or climbs; feels restless; and has trouble with impulsivity (e.g., may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, speak at inappropriate times, and/or have difficulties waiting their turn or listening to directions)
  • Combined Presentation—Have symptoms of the above two types

Symptoms may change over time. Talk to your child’s doctor if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior.

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Causes of ADHD

Current research shows possible causes and risk factors of ADHD may include:

  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Brain injury
  • Exposure to environmental (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age
  • Genetics
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature delivery

Scientists do not believe that ADHD is caused by:

  • Eating too much sugar
  • Parenting
  • Social and environmental factors (e.g., poverty or family chaos)
  • Watching too much television

Signs and symptoms

Most children, from time to time, have trouble focusing and behaving. Children with ADHD do not grow out of these behaviors, according to the CDC.

Children with ADHD may:

  • Daydream a lot
  • Forget or lose things a lot
  • Have a hard time resisting temptation
  • Have difficulty at school, at home, or with friends
  • Have severe symptoms
  • Have trouble taking turns
  • Make careless mistakes
  • Squirm or fidget
  • Take unnecessary risks
  • Talk too much

Diagnosis

No one test can diagnose ADHD in a child. ADHD has much in common with symptoms of other health problems, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Sleep problems

Diagnosing ADHD in a child can include:

  • A checklist for rating ADHD symptoms
  • A medical exam, including hearing and vision tests
  • Taking a history of the child from parents, teachers, and sometimes the child

Treatments

For preschool-aged children (4–5 years of age) with ADHD, the CDC recommends:

  • Behavior therapy
  • Training for parents and caregivers
  • Medication, if all else fails

Good treatment plans include:

  • Close monitoring
  • Follow-ups with your child’s doctor
  • Lifestyle changes

Each child is different. What works for one child, may not work for another child.

Managing symptoms

Managing ADHD symptoms is important. A child’s health and well-being can affect how severe symptoms are. Being healthy:

  • Is important for all children
  • Can especially be important for children with ADHD

Behavioral therapy and medication can help children manage ADHD symptoms, as can healthy behaviors, including:

Your child’s doctor can talk to you about how to help manage ADHD symptoms.

ADHD in adults

ADHD also affects adults. Some adults have ADHD and do not know it. Symptoms can cause difficulty:

  • At home
  • At work
  • With relationships

Symptoms:

  • May look different for adults than for children (e.g., hyperactivity may appear as extreme restlessness)
  • Can become more severe as the demands of adulthood increase

If you have concerns about your behavior, talk to your doctor.

More information

  1. “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 13, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html, opens new window.

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