OHSU

About ADHD

ADHD is a behavioral syndrome characterized by off task, inattentive, impulsive, and overactive behaviors. Such behaviors are typical of all children, but in ADHD they are so extreme that they impair learning, happiness, and development.

The syndrome can continue into adolescence and adulthood, where its form changes somewhat but suffering remains real. There may also be a group of children who are very inattentive but who are not hyperactive. They are also called ADHD (officially), though many people use the term “ADD” (attention deficit disorder) for this group of youngsters.

ADHD and ADD are sufficiently severe and sufficiently common, that this syndrome or set of syndromes is one of the leading causes of referral to behavioral and psychiatric services, to special education services, and in later life, to other services. Its impact on society is therefore very large (estimated at over $50 billion in losses per year in economic terms in the U.S.A. alone).

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?kids 2

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, is one of the most common mental disorders that develop in children. Children with ADHD have impaired functioning in multiple settings, including home, school, and in relationships with peers. If untreated, the disorder can have long-term adverse effects into adolescence and adulthood.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of ADHD will appear over the course of many months, and include the following behaviors that occur to an extent that is severe and is outside the typical range for the child's age or culture. First is impulsiveness, which means the individual often acts quickly without thinking first. Second is hyperactivity, which refers to an individual who cannot sit still, walks, runs, or climbs around when others are seated, and talks excessively. Third is inattention and disorganization, which refers to an individual who seems not to be listening, cannot focus, loses their materials, and cannot get organized. Diagnosis requires consultation with a professional who is familiar with conditions that can mimic this picture and is familiar with typical developmental patterns.

How is it diagnosed?

If ADHD is suspected, the diagnosis should be made by a professional with training in ADHD. This includes child psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, behavioral neurologists, and clinical social workers. After ruling out other possible reasons for the child’s behavior, the specialist checks the child’s school and medical records and talks to teachers and parents who have filled out a behavior rating scale for the child. A diagnosis is made only after all this information has been considered.

Treatment

Effective treatments for ADHD are available, and include behavioral therapy and medications.