A common term for a famous disorder, ADHD is as discussed as it is misunderstood, so it’s critical to understand the facts before pursuing a diagnosis.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is an acronym for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” which covers an enormous range of symptoms and functional difficulties. The most famous are, of course, trouble focusing and hyperactivity, but ADHD symptoms vary between genders and ages.
While not considered a learning disability, ADHD does make learning more difficult.
When seeking a diagnosis, it’s important to remember that everyone experiences trouble focusing or high activity from time to time, especially children with an abundance of energy in a school environment that requires prolonged stillness and focus. It is also critical to remember that ADHD is not a condition that can be overcome with a simple application of effort or “trying harder.” It requires patience, understanding, and the support of parents, teachers, and doctors to help diagnosed children gain new coping mechanisms.
While not considered a learning disability, ADHD does make learning more difficult and is often diagnosed in elementary school years.
Types and Symptoms
ADHD no longer fits a single blanket diagnosis. As research gives doctors and psychologists greater insight into the disorder, it is now categorized into three separate types.
Inattentive-predominant children with ADHD struggle with organization, focus, and attention for long periods. They may make frequent mistakes or miss details when studying or working, have trouble organizing their daily tasks, find themselves unable to follow and remember directions, and let small things happening around them distract them.
Others have difficulty holding a conversation and appear not to listen when someone else is speaking, or cannot innately manage their time efficiently. They may also lose important objects often, or drift off into daydreams.
Because this type of ADHD, called ADD in the past, disrupts classrooms less, it receives fewer diagnoses. More common in girls, its predominance in female children is among the reasons girls are diagnosed with ADHD half as often as boys.
Hyperactive-predominant ADHD includes the most famous symptoms of ADHD, particularly in young boys. Characterized by an overabundance of energy, those with hyperactive predominant ADHD often struggle to sit still or remain seated in class or during other activities. They fidget, run and climb when not appropriate, and may take excessively or interrupt others.
A hyperactive ADHD diagnosis is also characterized by an inability to wait for one’s turn and taking unnecessary risks. While some diagnosed children still struggle to focus, other hyperactive symptoms are more intense and more common.
The most common type of ADHD combines symptoms and indicators of both varieties and occurs more often than those limited to either type.
At this time, the causes of ADHD remain uncertain. Some research suggests neurological origins, with atypical levels of dopamine or gray matter density in certain brain structures. The apparent tendency of ADHD to pass through families suggests a genetic component; a child’s diagnosis of ADHD is one of the first signs that an adult parent or other relative may also suffer as-yet-undiagnosed ADHD.
Other research points to risk factors such as smoking while pregnant, premature delivery, low birth weight, and exposure to lead in addition to other environmental risks in pregnancy and early life. At this time, science has not identified a single cause. Fortunately, treatment has advanced far more efficiently and effectively.
To date, no link has been found between excessive sugar consumption or “screen time” on computers, televisions, or video games, but these factors should still be limited to promote overall health.
Not every hyperactive child or distractable teen suffers from ADHD.
Because all symptoms suffer the problems caused by symptoms of ADHD on occasion, a diagnosis requires that the symptoms occur regularly and severely enough to cause disruption. If a child’s daily life and schoolwork are largely unaffected, then youthful energy is a more likely cause.
Before diagnosing ADHD, doctors must rule out a number of other potential diagnoses, including anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and other learning disabilities to ensure that the patient doesn’t receive ineffective and unnecessary treatment.
To prevent misdiagnosis, doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists review a checklist of symptoms to rule out non-ADHD causes. Part of this involves rating the problematic behavior on a scale to better contextualize possible symptoms.
These scales can be an excellent evaluation and monitoring tool; however, rating systems are not a diagnosis on their own, nor do they validate a diagnosis.
Additionally, practitioners may interview a child’s parents, teachers, and other caregivers to establish whether there exists a history of repeated behavior over the last half-year or more since patterns of maladaptive behavior can indicate ADHD.
Differences in Gender
While some symptoms are universal among those diagnosed with ADHD, others have been shown to be gender-specific. For example, boys tend to exhibit more hyperactive symptoms while girls suffer from greater distractibility with the latter typically having a less disruptive effect in classroom environments.
Since their symptoms are more easily recognized, boys are diagnosed with ADHD twice as often as girls. If a female child or adolescent struggles to focus or daydreams easily in inappropriate situations, further testing by a doctor or child psychologist may be necessary.
ADD vs ADHD
ADD, or “attention deficit disorder,” was folded into ADHD as inattentive-predominant ADHD in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. It is now considered an outdated term.
ADHD Throughout Life
While ADHD appears most often in children and is often diagnosed in elementary school, symptoms can still emerge in adolescents and adults. Moreover, three in five diagnosed children and adolescents retain symptoms throughout their adult life while the rest will grow out of their ADHD symptoms.
ADHD symptoms change throughout life as the patient does. It is common for adolescents and adults to exhibit different symptoms than those that manifested in childhood. For example, hyperactivity in adults can manifest as restlessness.
Another notable characteristic of ADHD is that it rarely occurs on its own. Other conditions such as anxiety and depression often accompany it. Further, problems with learning and socializing that can be attributed to ADHD can compound the symptoms of co-occurring mental illnesses. For example, the struggle to keep up with tasks or maintain relationships can induce anxiety while depression appears in roughly half of all ADHD-diagnosed adolescents.
Fortunately, treatment for ADHD often overlaps with depression and anxiety, and vice versa. Certain medications used to treat ADHD are also commonly prescribed as antidepressants. There’s also a variety of non-chemical treatments that offer holistic relief for a variety of mental health problems.
As an intimately personal disease, modern medicine offers a wide variety of treatments. This allows care providers to tailor solutions to their patients as they monitor the patients’ health and how they respond to treatments throughout the process.
Like many other disorders and conditions, the most effective course of treatment for ADHD is to apply a combination of pharmaceutical, therapeutic, and holistic care and to monitor the patient in order to accommodate his or her needs in real-time.
The many medication options afforded to ADHD patients are sorted into two main categories: stimulants and non-stimulants.
Stimulants increase the amount of dopamine available to the central nervous system (CNS, the brain, and spinal cord) and are the most common, especially Ritalin and Adderall. However, immense care must be taken with these drugs, particularly the latter, which is commonly abused by those who do not have ADHD in order to increase focus and energy (famous on college campuses), it returns both energy and focuses to a more typical level when used as prescribed.
If a patient doesn’t respond to a stimulant or if the stimulant causes troublesome side effects, non-stimulants, like Strattera, with certain antidepressants, such as Wellbutrin, can be an effective alternative. This particular combination works well in cases where depression exists alongside ADHD, allowing for safe treatment without the risk of combined medications.
An enormous variety of therapies are available to children, adolescents, and adults suffering from ADHD. These include, but are far from limited to:
- Stress management
- Classroom behavior management
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Family therapy
Multiple disciplines and approaches, combined holistically, can give ADHD patients better tools to cope with the stresses caused by their symptoms, allow them to better interact with their peers, and help them gain a greater level of understanding with their family.
Some medical bodies, including the CDC, recommend a holistic approach to wellness to alleviate the stresses and symptoms of ADHD. A balanced diet, regular exercise and time outdoors, adequate sleep, and meditative practices like yoga or tai chi can help children and adults alike cope with ADHD as well as a variety of other disorders.
Coping in Day-to-Day Life
In addition to lifestyle changes, small adjustments to a daily routine can alleviate pressure on ADHD sufferers and their loved ones. For example, teachers can provide extra assistance with predetermined extensions for assignments and tests in addition to personal rewards to keep children motivated and prevent discouragement.
At home, patients of all ages can keep assigned locations in the house for common items like backpacks and phones so they aren’t misplaced or forgotten. To remember assignments and important dates — and to better plan for the future — written calendars, lists, and alerts on phones and other devices serve as reminders of events that could otherwise have been forgotten through no fault of their own.
If you or a loved one suffer from ADHD, need help with management for ADHD medication or treatment for ADHD, the Silicon Beach Behavioral Health treatment center offers treatment and guidance.
Covering a wide variety of mental illness and substance abuse disorders, contact us to learn more at 213-460-1706.