What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD is a diagnosis that is classified according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 4th Edition (DSM-IV). To diagnose ADHD we look at three symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. These symptoms must be at a level that can cause significant problems for the child and adolescent and are developmentally inappropriate. The type of ADHD is decided by looking at the occurrence of these three symptoms. Children who have hyperactive and impulsive symptoms are referred to as ADHD Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive Subtype; those who have mainly inattention are referred to as ADHD Primarily Inattentive Subtype (often referred to as “ADD”), and those who have all three symptoms are referred to as, ADHD Combined Subtype. The latter is the most frequent type seen in young children.
ADHD is the most common disorder that begins in childhood ADHD and occurs in 3 to 5% of elementary-school aged children. It is diagnosed more frequently in males than females.
In 80% of these cases the adolescent will continue to have enough symptoms to qualify for the diagnosis of ADHD and over 60% of adults will maintain some core symptoms of ADHD.
The symptoms and subtypes of ADHD and associated disorders change throughout the life span. Hyperactivity/impulsivity may decrease as students get older, but the demands on their attention and other thinking skills may increase. Due to this, the Primarily Inattentive Subtype of ADHD may be missed in childhood and not diagnosed till adolescence which corresponds to when the student faces increased demands at school.
The diagnosis of ADHD is based upon the ability to observe symptoms that seem to occur consistently across different settings (i.e., home and school) as documented by different sources (i.e., parent and teacher). The child should always have a physical as well as a hearing and eyesight test done to rule out any physical reasons for the symptoms. It is also recommended that a psycho-educational assessment be done to assess whether other learning disabilities may coexist with the ADHD or be the cause of the symptoms. ADHD is frequently comorbid with other disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder and anxiety. There is no one test for ADHD. Instead, assessment requires using standardized measures, and careful consideration of other possible causes of the behaviour. Psychologists are well qualified to conduct such assessments.
What treatments are used to help with ADHD symptoms?
For most children, the treatment of choice is the combination of medication, special education put in place in the school and psychosocial interventions including individual, group and family counseling. Psycho-education or education about ADHD is one of the most effective ways of treating ADHD.
Although some children/adolescents no longer meet criteria for ADHD when they reach adulthood, there are many adults who still experience impairments because of their ADHD symptoms.
The symptoms of ADHD can affect many areas of life including marriage, employment, and parenting. It is important to offer multi-modal treatment.
Because ADHD has a strong genetic component, some adults may wonder if they might have ADHD after their child has been diagnosed.
Helpful Links for ADHD
Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance: www.caddra.ca
Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada: http://www.caddac.ca
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: http://www.help4adhd.org/
Hospital for Sick Children: www.teachADHD.ca
Children’s Mental Health: http://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca
National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml