What is ADHD?
ADHD can cause problems in many areas of life if untreated. Without treatment, children may not learn well in school and adults can have trouble at work or in their relationships.
Doctors diagnose ADHD by talking with parents and teachers, observing behavior, and reviewing tests and medical records. They often prescribe medications to help manage symptoms. The most common types of ADHD medication are stimulants.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD
Although all youngsters fidget, have trouble sitting still or being quiet, and act impulsively sometimes, kids with ADHD exhibit these symptoms often. Their behavior causes problems at home, school and with friends, and they have trouble managing their emotions and dealing with everyday tasks like organizing their closet or remembering what to get at the grocery store.
Most children who have ADHD show symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity, but many kids with these symptoms don’t meet psychiatric criteria for diagnosis because their problems are not that serious. To be diagnosed, kids with ADHD must have symptoms that significantly interfere with their ability to function adaptively at home, at school or with others in social environments.
To determine whether a child has ADHD, doctors usually ask parents to describe the symptoms they see at home and at school. They also may use rating scales and questionnaires that help them evaluate a child’s behavior, and they may request information from teachers or coaches about the child’s behavior. They can also do a physical exam to rule out other health problems that might cause similar symptoms. Symptoms of ADHD are more common in boys than in girls, but they can occur at any age.
Types of ADHD
Children and teens with ADHD often exhibit different types of symptoms. They may be quieter and less likely to show signs of hyperactivity, but they can still have trouble paying attention or staying organized. They may also have difficulty waiting for their turn or interrupting others. In addition, they may struggle with relationships or antisocial behavior.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, defines three types of ADHD. To be diagnosed with one of these types, a person must show six or more of the symptoms and have them last for at least six months. The person’s symptoms must interfere with their life at school, home, work or other activities. The symptoms must have started before they were 12 years old.
The type of ADHD a person has influences how they respond to treatment. In particular, treatments for people with predominantly inattentive ADHD focus on helping them improve their executive function, which includes organization and planning skills. Other types of ADHD, such as the impulsive-hyperactive and combined types, tend to require more intensive therapies. However, the type of ADHD a person has can change over time, and it’s possible to have both types of ADHD at once.
Causes of ADHD
Researchers don’t fully understand what causes ADHD, but it likely involves genes and brain chemicals. In people with ADHD, areas of the brain that control attention are less active than they should be. This might explain why many children with the condition have trouble sitting still, paying attention, and listening well.
It’s also possible that certain environmental factors increase the risk for ADHD, including smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy. Babies who are born prematurely and with low birth weight may be more likely to develop ADHD, too. But it’s difficult to know if these factors really cause the disorder.
One thing we do know is that most healthy kids are inattentive or hyperactive at times. They often have short attention spans and can’t wait their turn or sit still for long periods of time. But children with ADHD have these behaviors much more often than most other children and adults. In addition, they have these problems in more than one setting and in ways that interfere with their lives. That’s why mental health professionals diagnose ADHD. And they can help kids and parents learn new skills and improve their family relationships. They can also provide medication to ease symptoms.
How is ADHD Diagnosed?
When it comes to diagnosing ADHD, health care providers consider symptoms that occur in two or more settings (home, school and work) and cause dysfunction. Symptoms must also have lasted for at least six months. Providers then designate the severity of your child’s symptoms, assigning them to one of three categories: mild, moderate or severe.
When a health care provider decides that someone has ADHD, they typically will use multiple evaluation tools and interview the patient and their caregivers. They may ask questions about the person’s history, including their family history and education. They might also complete several scales and questionnaires, conduct a physical exam and order a medical evaluation to rule out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD can appear at any age, but the best time to get a diagnosis is in childhood. Early identification and treatment can help children avoid future difficulties with learning, social skills and employment and prevent problems such as family stress and disruption, depression, substance abuse, delinquency and accidental injury. In adults, a diagnosis can help address ongoing problems with learning, relationships and self-esteem, as well as impulsivity, fidgeting, procrastination and trouble keeping commitments.
Treatsments for ADHD
In most cases, ADHD treatment includes a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. The most common medication used to treat ADHD is called a stimulant, which works by increasing activity in parts of the brain that control attention and behavior. Methylphenidate is the most commonly prescribed stimulant for children, teenagers and adults with ADHD. It is available as immediate-release tablets or modified-release tablets that are taken once a day in the morning and deliver the medicine over time throughout the day.
Behavioral therapy (counseling) helps people with ADHD improve their problems with organizing, following directions and controlling impulses. It may also help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety that sometimes coexist with ADHD.
Lifestyle changes can also help. Limiting screen time, having a consistent routine and keeping the home environment as calm as possible can decrease distractions and increase focus. Encourage exercise, especially activities that involve movement, such as playing a sport or taking dance or martial arts classes. Provide positive reinforcement when you see your child displaying good behaviors. Set clear rules and follow through with consequences for misbehavior, such as time outs.
It is important to recognize and treat ADHD so that it doesn’t interfere with a person’s daily life, including work, family and social relationships. Without treatment, ADHD can lead to school failure, problems at home and in relationships, substance abuse, legal issues and accidental injuries.
ADHD in Adults
Many people don’t get diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood. They may have struggled all their lives with unrecognized symptoms and assumed they just weren’t capable or that their problems were caused by other factors. When they finally do receive a diagnosis, it can be an enormous relief and hope for the future. It can also help them understand that the challenges they face are not a reflection of their intelligence or capability, but rather due to the symptoms of the disorder.
Adults with ADHD often have trouble at work, in school, and in their personal relationships. They may have difficulty keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines or performing well in meetings and presentations. They may have trouble managing their finances, leading to unpaid bills and debts resulting from impulsive spending. They may have trouble maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep.
Symptoms of adult ADHD are generally more subtle than in children and adolescents, which can make it difficult to diagnose them. Symptoms may present as inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of the two. Women with ADHD often have predominately inattentive symptoms, which may be harder to recognize than the more stereotypical male presentation of the disorder.
Many people with ADHD can control their symptoms with medication and psychotherapy (talk therapy). A multimodal treatment approach is usually the best. This means close cooperation among therapists, doctors and patients.
Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. These drugs work by increasing the levels of certain brain chemicals, including dopamine and norepinephrine. This can help improve attention span and reduce impulsive behavior. Doctors may also prescribe antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin) or venlafaxine (Effexor), to treat depression or anxiety, which often coexist with ADHD.
A thorough medical history is important because some medical conditions and some medicines can cause ADHD-like symptoms. People with a family history of developmental disorders, epilepsy or sleep apnea should be more carefully evaluated. People with histories of severe drug or alcohol abuse may also need more careful evaluation and treatment.
There are two types of stimulant medications for ADHD: immediate-release and extended-release. The immediate-release medications are taken as needed and last for about four hours. The long-acting medications are taken once a day in the morning and can last up to 16 hours. Many people choose to supplement their long-acting medication with a dose of the immediate-release medicine in the late afternoon or evening.
Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta and Vyvanse are some of the leading medication you can take to treat your ADHD symptoms. I’ll be sharing my reviews and experiences, pros and cons of each, and which I think are best for different types of work.
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Aron Croft, Aaron Croft, Hidden ADD, Hidden ADHD, Atypical Coach, neurodivergent, neurodiversity