What Exactly is ADHD?

ADHD, or ADD as it is often referred, is thought to be a neurological disorder that has been present from childhood and manifests itself through a variety of behaviors. These include hyperactivity, forgetfulness, poor impulse control, and distractibility.

ADHD is thought to be a chronic syndrome – that is, one that cannot be cured, although it can be minimized and controlled. It is thought that this disorder affects between 3 and 5 percent of the United States and Australia’s  population in children and adults.

Much controversy surrounds the diagnosis of ADHD. This includes the thought of whether a diagnosis of ADHD denotes a disability in the traditional sense or just describes the neurological property of the brain.

There are some medical personnel who believe that the condition isn’t biological but psychological in origin. The debate over how to treat ADHD is a constant source of discussion and debate in medical circles. Some advocate medication while others support behavior modification in order to minimize the symptoms. No clear-cut solution has presented itself, however, and the generally preferred mode of treatment is medication.

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While diagnosis of the disorder is complicated by the fact that there is no precise test to identify it, ADHD is defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as a brain condition that makes it difficult for children to control their behavior. Though the disorder can manifest itself in different ways, we’ve told you that children with ADHD tend to be inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive.

Many children also experience trouble in school, difficulty in relationships with family members and their peers, academic underachievement and low self-esteem. So, how do you recognize ADHD? The symptoms fall into two quite broad categories.

The first category is inattention. Symptoms include:

  1. Failing to pay close attention to details or making careless mistakes when doing schoolwork or other activities
  2. Trouble keeping attention focused during play or tasks
  3. Appearing not to listen when spoken to
  4. Failing to follow instructions or finish tasks
  5. Avoiding tasks that require a high amount of mental effort and organization such as school projects
  6. Frequently losing items required to facilitate tasks or activities such as school supplies
  7. Excessive distractibility
  8. Forgetfulness
  9. Procrastination or inability to begin an activity

The second is Hyperactivity-Impulsive Behavior. Symptoms include:

  1. Fidgeting with hands or feet
  2. Squirming in a seat
  3. Leaving a seat often even at inappropriate times
  4. Running or climbing at inappropriate times
  5. Difficulty during quiet play
  6. Frequently feeling restless
  7. Excessive talking
  8. Answering a question before the speaker has finished or interrupting the activities of others at inappropriate times.
  9. Failing to wait for one’s turn

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A positive diagnosis is usually made if the person exhibits six or more of the above-named symptoms for at least three months. Symptoms must appear consistently in varied environments (home, school, etc.) and interfere with normal functioning. People who are inattentive find it difficult to focus on a particular task and get bored quickly. While they may display effortless concentration doing things they enjoy, making a deliberate and conscious effort to organize and complete a task or to learn something new is difficult.

Hyperactive people seem to bounce off the walls with energy and just cannot sit still. Impulsive people don?t think before they act or speak. They have difficulty waiting for things to take their natural course. Everything must happen right away. There have been times in all our lives when we have been overly impulsive, inattentive or hyperactive. But that does not mean that we are afflicted with ADHD. These behaviors are symptomatic of ADHD if they appear early in life, before the age of 7. However, the age of onset can vary and symptoms may even appear in early adolescence. They must be excessive, long-term and pervasive. They must occur more often than in other people of the same age group.

The behaviors must cause a real handicap in at least two areas of the person’s life such as school, home, work, or social interactions. Boys are at least three times as likely as girls to develop the disorder. Some doctors feel that testing needs to be gender specific because the symptoms present themselves differently in boys versus girls which would account for the vast difference in numbers.

As a result of the disorder, children with ADHD often engage in disruptive activities and antisocial behavior that alienates their peers and other people around them. In addition, their academic performance tends to suffer because of their inattention and easy distractibility. Parents of children with ADHD experience high stress levels that are linked to their extreme frustration in attempting to discipline their children. This can lead to problems in the marriage and in the worst case, even divorce.

Unfortunately, ADHD is not a disorder that disappears with time. ADHD persists into adulthood. However, the good news is that there are ways in which one can alleviate the symptoms. We will cover coping strategies later on in this book, but it must be noted that ADHD won’t just go away.

The good news about ADHD is that recent years have seen an increase in the overall understanding of what the disorder looks like. We know that not every child with ADHD is hyperactive, and not every child who is inattentive has ADHD. This is great news and the good news just keeps on coming. When you have a child who is diagnosed with ADHD or you, as an adult have been told that you have Adult ADHD, keep in mind that you are in the company of some pretty famous people who have, or still do, struggle with this disorder. Consider the following list:

  • Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor of the telephone
  • Beethoven – Composer
  • Harry Belafonte – Actor, Composer
  • George Burns – Actor
  • Admiral Richard Byrd – Navy Aviator
  • Andrew Carnegie – Industrialist and Philanthropist
  • Prince Charles – Member of the Royal Family of England
  • Cher – Actress/Singer
  • Winston Churchill – Statesman
  • Bill Cosby – Actor
  • Leonardo Da Vinci – Sculptor and Artist
  • Thomas Edison – Inventor
  • Albert Einstein – Inventor
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower – Former President of the United States
  • Benjamin Franklin – Politician, Inventor
  • Michael Jordan – Basketball Player
  • Abraham Lincoln – Former President of the United States
  • Stephen Spielberg – Director, Film Maker

The list literally goes on and on and on. These people achieved notoriety for their achievements despite their shortcomings. They suffered from ADHD and overcame the diagnosis to become not only rich and famous, but remembered and revered for their creativity and leadership. This could be you or your child. Don’t give up. Don’t blame yourself. Take control and take charge. ADHD can be controlled and sufferers can live normal, productive lives.

For more information on ADHD and how to cope with individuals with ADHD, click here.

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