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ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Introduction to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Margaret Austin, Ph.D., Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Laura Burgdorf, Ph.D.

Active Child at Playimage by David Goehring (lic)The purpose of this paper is to provide a detailed description of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), its causes, symptoms and treatments. ADHD is a neurological disorder that develops during childhood and can persist into adulthood. Although adult ADHD is more common than initially thought, not all children who have these symptoms will go on to have the adult version of the disorder. Childhood symptoms may also change across the lifespan; some fade (e.g., blatant hyperactivity) while others may be expressed differently (e.g., chronic disorganization may result in getting fired from jobs). Because ADHD often "looks" different in kids and adults, the adult version of the disorder will be discussed in its own section later in the paper.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders. Approximately 3-7% of school-aged children have the disorder. Prevalence rates seem to vary by community, with some research indicating that larger cities may have rates as high as 10-15%.

ADHD produces symptoms that are characterized by distractibility, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, and forgetfulness. The "attention deficit" component of ADHD refers to inattention, or difficulty focusing for long periods and being easily distractible. The "hyperactivity" portion of ADHD is used to describe behavior that is restless, agitated, and difficult to resist. Hyperactive individuals often appear as if they NEED to move. They are in almost constant motion, and frequently make excessive noise. Although impulsivity is not included in the diagnositic label, it is also considered a behavior characteristic of this disorder. When impulsivity is paired with hyperactivity, the person appears to act without prior thought or intention. Impulsive behaviors are often intrusive, rude, and dangerous, sometimes resulting in accidents. For example, children may not think about landing when they jump off a ledge to catch a ball.

Given that all children tend to exhibit some of the behaviors characteristic of ADHD, such as daydreaming, restlessness, or thoughtlessness, it is important to understand the difference between normal behaviors and a true disorder. True ADHD symptoms are long-term and severe enough to impair someone's every day functioning. Moreover, symptoms must occur in more than one environment. For example, in children, this means that the ADHD symptoms interfere with success in school and relationships with parents, siblings, or peers. For adults, ADHD interferes with both work and family functioning.

Experts consider ADHD to be a chronic condition that has no cure. However, individuals with this disorder should not give up hope. There are many different treatment options that can help people successfully manage ADHD symptoms and move forward in their lives.

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