Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Most people recall a time when they had difficulty concentrating, focusing or listening. Most of us remember daydreaming in various situations, then “catching ourselves” and reminding ourselves to pay attention. These behaviors are part of normal human experience. However, some children, adolescents and adults struggle with persistent and pervasive attention problems. Over the years this difficulty has had a variety of different names and descriptions. Today it is called Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a diagnosis established by the American Psychiatric Association. It is a disorder in which an individual has significant difficulty paying attention. The person has a short attention span, is distractible, impulsive, and possibly engages in overactive behavior.
The differences in a person’s developmental stages from early childhood to adulthood are easy to see. For example, a six-year-old child’s ability to sit still, pay attention, and wait his turn is very different from that of a 12-year-old.
This developmental continuum must be carefully considered when looking at the possibility of an ADHD. To be diagnosed with ADHD, an individual’s behavioral characteristics must appear to be very different from those at his developmental stage. The behavioral symptoms must be excessive, pervasive, and must have an adverse effect on the individual’s ability to function in various settings.
How many people have ADHD?
Approximately three to five percent of all children are affected by symptoms of ADHD. That may be close to two million US children alone. ADHD affects two to three times as many boys as girls. Recent studies indicate that symptoms of ADHD usually persist into adolescence and adulthood. Current statistics suggest that two to four percent of adults are affected by symptoms of ADHD.
What causes ADHD?
A specific cause of ADHD is not known at this time, although the disorder is considered to be a neurologically based condition. The development of sophisticated technology, such as Positron Emission Topography (PET Scans), has made it possible to discern tiny differences in brain structure and functioning when comparing an individual with ADHD to an individual without the disorder. In addition, there has been evidence of the involvement of a genetic link, as the symptoms tend to run in families. Children who have ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has it. And at least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth have children who have the disorder. In addition, the majority of identical twins share the trait.
Understanding the “cause” of ADHD is complicated by its symptoms, which also are often characteristic of other disorders (such as anxiety or depression), other environmental factors, family concerns, and learning problems. Due to this complexity, it is important that the diagnosis of ADHD is made from a thorough assessment by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. The assessment should include several hours of interview, observations, formal testing, and interpretive sessions. It is inadequate and ill advised to attempt to diagnose ADHD in one 15-minute office call.
Kinds of ADHD
Historically, ADHD was first described medically around the turn of the century. The current description of ADHD is available in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition. The term, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is the general term used for the diagnosis. There are three subtypes under the overall term of ADHD (Predominantly Inattentive Type, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and Combined Type).
The following section is excerpted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition.
Symptoms of inattention