Posted by Frank Gillespie MA

ADHD presents itself with persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or the combination of all three. Living with ADHD makes you feel like you’ll never be able to get your life under control. If the symptoms are getting in the way of your life, it may be time to seek professional help. Adults and children with ADHD can benefit from a number of treatments.

What is ADHD and what is ADD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is known as both ADD and ADHD. Both terms refer to the same condition however, technically the term ADD is no longer used. All attention disorders are now under the term ADHD and have subcategories with inattentive and hyperactivity as differential diagnoses.

In the United States, the definition of ADHD has been updated in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to more accurately characterize the experience of affected adults. This revision is based on nearly two decades of research showing that ADHD, although a disorder that begins in childhood, can continue through adulthood for some people. By adapting criteria for adults, DSM-5 aims to ensure that children with ADHD can continue to get care throughout their lives if needed.

ADHD presents itself with persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or the combination of all three. ADHD makes it difficult to manage the multiple tasks of daily life, especially complex tasks that require organization, planning, and sustained focus. ADHD can result in performance issues in social, educational, or work settings.

Is ADHD real?

Yes, ADHD is a real, brain-based medical disorders causing significant problems in several major life areas such as work, school, or relationships. It is a common myth that ADHD is just a lack of willpower and anyone with adequate intelligence can overcome these difficulties. The truth is, ADHD is essentially a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain and affects people of all levels of intelligence. Although everyone sometimes has symptoms of ADHD, only those with chronic impairments from these symptoms warrant an ADHD diagnosis.

Do I have ADHD: What are the symptoms of ADHD?

In DSM-V, ADHD symptoms are divided into two categories: inattention and hyperactivity/ impulsivity. For diagnosing ADHD the patient must meet certain criteria. The number of criteria need to be met vary by age: children must have at least six symptoms from either (or both) the inattention group of criteria and the hyperactivity/impulsivity criteria, while older adolescents and adults (over age 17 years) must present with five. Several of the individual’s ADHD symptoms must be present prior to age 12 years. ADHD symptoms in children must be present for at least six months, be disruptive, and inappropriate for their developmental level.

A child or adult may have inattentive signs of ADHD if he or she often:

    • Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli


    • Is forgetful, even in daily activities


    • Fails to give close attention to details in school work or other activities


    • Has trouble keeping attention on tasks or activities


    • Ignores a speaker, even when spoken to directly


    • Does not follow instructions, fails to finish schoolwork or chores, duties in the work place and loses focus or is easily side-tracked (this failure is not due deliberately refusing to do it or not understanding instructions);


    • Has trouble with organization


    • Dislikes and avoids tasks that require long periods of mental effort, such as homework


  • Loses vital things needed for tasks and activities, such as books, keys, wallet, phones, etc.

A child or adult may have a hyperactive or impulsive symptoms of ADHD if he or she often:

    • Appears to be “driven by a motor” and always “on the go”


    • Excessively talks


    • Has trouble waiting his or her turn


    • Squirms in his seat, taps his hands or feet, or fidgets


    • Gets up from a seat when remaining seated is expected


    • Runs around or climbs in inappropriate situations ((in adolescents and adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness;


    • Unable to quietly play or take part in leisure activities


    • Blurts out an answer before a question has been finished


  • Intrudes on and interrupts others

Along with meeting the aforementioned criteria for inattentive and impulsive signs of ADHD, a child or adult must meet the following conditions:

    • Several symptoms began showing before the age of 12


    • Symptoms are present in more than one setting, such as school, at home, with friends, or other activities


    • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with a person’s functioning at school or work, or impact a person’s ability to socialize with others.


  • The symptoms are not explained by another condition, such as a psychotic disorder, mood disorder or anxiety disorder. (DSM-5 includes no exclusion criteria for people with autism spectrum disorder, since symptoms of both disorders co-occur.)

What types of ADHD exist?

There are 3 main types of ADHD. In all ADHD types, the symptoms must be present for more than six months. But, as symptoms can change as a person ages, he or she may change subtypes over a period of time.

    • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (inattentive ADHD): typically referred to the term ADD. This means a person shows enough symptoms of inattention, but doesn’t meet the full criteria for hyperactivity and impulsivity.


    • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD: inversely, this type occurs when a person has enough symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity but not enough for inattention.


  • Combined Presentation: This type is when a person meets the criteria of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

Does my child have ADHD?

ADHD in children

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders with an estimated 5.4 million diagnosed children in the U.S. ADHD in girls is less common, boys are diagnosed two to three times as often as girls. It’s normal for children to occasionally forget their homework, daydream during class, or act without thinking, but ADHD can affect your child’s ability to learn and get along with others.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?

ADHD typically appears before the age of 12. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between attention deficit disorder and normal “kid behavior.” If your child shows a number of the aforementioned ADHD signs that are present across all situations—at home, at school, and at play—it’s time to consider possible solutions such as therapy. Making this diagnosis correctly requires a comprehensive evaluation, however, and should only be made by a qualified health care provider.

A common misbelief is that all kids with ADHD are hyperactive and can never pay attention. The truth is, some children with ADHD are hyperactive, while others are not. Some put too much focus on a task and have trouble shifting it to something else. Others are only mildly inattentive, but overly impulsive. As mentioned before, the three primary characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The signs of ADHD in children depend on which characteristics predominate (see above).By the time children reach school age, those with ADHD stand out in all three behaviors.

ADHD in teens

Most children who are diagnosed with ADHD still have it as teens. Symptoms of ADHD in teens are similar to those of ADHD in children. They include:

    • Distractibility


    • Irritability


    • Poor concentration


    • Hyperactivity


  • Impulsivity

During teen years, especially as the hormonal changes of adolescence are going on, ADHD symptoms may get worse. Because of problems with distractibility and poor concentration, many teenagers with ADHD have problems in school (falling grades, poor performance, ostracism) especially if they are not getting ADHD treatment.

How to help children with ADHD?

Whether or not your child’s symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are due to ADHD, they can cause many problems if left untreated. Children who can’t focus and control themselves may struggle in school, get into frequent trouble, and find it hard to get along with others or make friends. These frustrations and difficulties can lead to low self-esteem as well as friction and stress for the whole family.

Options to start with include getting your child into ADHD therapy, implementing a better diet and exercise plan, and modifying the home environment to minimize distractions. Effective treatment for childhood ADHD involves behavioral therapy, parent education and training, social support, and assistance at school. ADHD medication may also be used, however, it should never be the sole ADHD cure. Adderall and Ritalin are perhaps the two best-known ADHD medications.

Parenting an ADHD child

While attention deficit disorder is not caused by bad parenting, there are effective parenting strategies that can go a long way to correct problem behaviors. Children with ADHD need structure, consistency, clear communication, and rewards and consequences for their behavior. They also need lots of love, support, and encouragement.

What about ADHD in adults?

Attention deficit disorder affects many adults, and its wide variety of frustrating symptoms can hinder everything from your relationships to your career.

Adults with ADHD have typically had the disorder since childhood, but it may not have been diagnosed until later in life. But even if you were never diagnosed with ADHD as a child, that doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by it as an adult.

Adults can be diagnosed with any of the three subtypes of ADHD discussed above. However, due to the relative maturity of adults, as well as physical differences between adults and children, adult ADHD symptoms can be somewhat different from those experienced by children.

The good news is that the challenges of attention deficit disorder are beatable. You can learn to manage the symptoms of adult ADHD—even turning some of your weaknesses into strengths. It’s never too late!

What are the common ADHD symptoms in adults?

The following categories highlight common symptoms of adult ADHD:

    • Trouble concentrating and staying focused


    • Hyperfocus: this is a paradoxical symptom, a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding


    • Disorganization and forgetfulness


    • Impulsivity


    • Emotional difficulties


  • Hyperactivity or restlessness

Adults with ADHD are much less likely to be hyperactive than their younger counterparts. Only a small percent of adults, in fact, suffer from prominent symptoms of hyperactivity. Remember that names can be deceiving and you may very well have ADHD if you have one or more of the symptoms above—even if you lack hyperactivity.

What causes ADHD?

No one knows exactly the causes of ADHD, but certain things are known to play a role.

    • Heredity: ADHD tends to run in families. It is thought the genes you inherit from your parents are a significant factor in developing the condition.


    • Pregnancy problems: children born with a low birth weight, born premature, or whose mothers had difficult pregnancies have a higher risk of having ADHD.


  • Brain function and structure: studies involving brain imaging scans have suggested that certain areas of the brain may be smaller in people with ADHD, whereas other areas may be larger. Other studies have suggested that people with ADHD may have an imbalance in the level of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, or that these chemicals may not work properly.

How to deal with ADHD?

The effects of ADHD can lead to embarrassment, frustration, hopelessness, disappointment, and loss of confidence. Living with ADHD makes you feel like you’ll never be able to get your life under control. That’s why a diagnosis of adult ADHD can be an enormous source of relief and hope. It helps you understand that attention deficit disorder is not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw and that you’re not to blame.

If the symptoms of ADHD are getting in the way of your life, it may be time to seek professional help. Adults with ADHD can benefit from a number of treatments, including behavioral therapy, individual therapy and many more. The treatment of ADHD for adults (just like treatment for children) should involve a professional, along with the person’s family members and/or spouse.

ADHD professionals can help you:

    • control impulsive behaviors


    • manage your time and money


    • get and stay organized


    • boost productivity at home and work


    • manage stress and anger


  • communicate more clearly

Adult ADHD doesn’t have to hold you back! Seek professional help today!

Frank Gillespie MA

Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.


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