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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - ADHD is primarily diagnosed in children and teens. This article explains ADHD symptoms, criteria for ADHD diagnosis, what causes ADHD, and what treatments are available for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Introduction to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

As currently understood and explained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV TR), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is one group of disorders in the grouping "Attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders" along with Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, both of which differ from ADHD in significant ways.

ADHD is conceived of as having three main types of symptoms: those in the area of hyperactivity, those in the area of impulsivity, and those in the area of inattention. The three specific types of ADHD that have been identified include a subset of these three types of symptoms:

  • Combined subtype is the diagnosis for people who exhibit symptoms in all three categories.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive subtype is the diagnosis for people who exhibit symptoms in the areas of hyperactivity and impulsivity only.
  • Predominantly Inattentive Subtype is the subtype that used to be referred to as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder, and is the diagnosis for people who exhibit symptoms in the area of inattention.

Diagnosing Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

The diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder requires a health care professional specifically trained in ADHD. This is important because many of the symptoms that—when they meet diagnostic criteria—indicate ADHD as the correct diagnosis, in other circumstances may be considered normal or developmentally appropriate behavior or symptoms of quite different disorders or issues. This is likely one reason why a diagnosis cannot be made without at least 6 symptoms appearing for at least six months and manifesting in more than one area of life (i.e., not just at school or just at home, for example).

It has been pointed out that children who are inattentive may seem to be quiet, well-behaved, and gregarious, so it the fact that they have a problem may not be noticed. On the other hand, children who are impulsive or hyperactive may be wrongly considered to be defiant, or have an emotional or disciplinary disturbance.

Causes of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

The causes of ADHD are unclear, and researchers are studying environmental as well as genetic factors. ADHD often runs in families, leading researchers to try to identify specific gene or genes that may be responsible. In the realm of the environment, some studies have suggested that prenatal exposure to cigarette smoking and alcohol and exposure to lead early in life may be factors. Research has overall disproved a relationship between sugar and ADHD, but the link with certain food additives is undergoing research to provide confirmation to what seems like a real link.

Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

There are three main types of therapy for ADHD, used alone or in combination. One is medications, which are usually stimulants. These are intended to attenuate symptoms, making it easier for children to carry out schoolwork and chores. Some people question whether children with ADHD are being over-medicated. Other approaches include Behavioral Therapy, which is intended to help a child with ADHD be able to change his or her behavior. There are also approaches that parents and teachers can use to make obedience, follow-through, and competence easier for a child with ADHD, as well as training for the child. 

Related Article: Child Behavior Disorders >>

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