What are the symptoms of ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a condition that is characterised by problems with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

8 MIN READ

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that affects people's ability to focus and pay attention.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood psychiatric disorders.  It's a condition where children experience problems with attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  While most people think that ADHD only occurs in children, it also occurs in adults.

Children with ADHD often experience difficulties with sustained attention, poor behaviour, and staying within limits. These behaviours can negatively affect their ability to do day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of ADHD may also include difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and poor time and deadline management. Individuals with ADHD often avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort, and they tend to lose or misplace personal and necessary items.

Children and teenagers with ADHD exhibit a wide variety of behaviours, but the most noticeable sign is hyperactivity. While many children are naturally active, children with ADHD try to multitask and often bounce from one activity to the next. They also have difficulty sitting still, playing quietly, or relaxing. A parent may be concerned about a child's lack of focus, but early detection is key to preventing the condition. 

When required to perform detailed tasks that required concentration, we all may have trouble if we have had a poor night's sleep.  When we are tired or unwell, and our brain isn't as sharp as usually, we can have trouble concentrating and often make careless mistakes.  A person with ADHD can feel like this everyday, leading to challenges with certain tasks.  This can often be noticeable by teachers in a school environment.  

Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing, are easily distracted, and easily forget things.  As a general rule, physicians diagnose ADHD when the symptoms significantly hinder the child's ability to adapt to school and home environments.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

People with ADHD often struggle to stay organised and to keep their belongings in order. This results in messy work, poor time management, and missed deadlines. Additionally, people with ADHD are likely to lose essential items like school materials, tools, paperwork, and eyeglasses. They are also easily distracted by extraneous stimuli, such as tapping their feet or squirming in their seats. To manage ADHD symptoms, it's important that parents learn about the disorder and develop strategies to help their child with the help of experienced professionals.

Children with ADHD often exhibit multiple interests and find it difficult to finish tasks. Task completion is often not a priority for them, so they might struggle to complete tasks like homework, chores, or games. This lack of focus can lead to problems keeping track of time or making friends. However, children with ADHD are often creative and have a difficult time staying focused on one task at a time. As a result, they may be easily distracted and impulsive.

One of the first symptoms of ADHD is hyperactivity. While most children are naturally very active, those with ADHD tend to be hyperactive. Their constant jumping from one activity to another is a common symptom. They also have trouble sitting still, playing quietly, or relaxing. While these behaviours may be difficult to spot, they are indicative of ADHD and can make life difficult for the child affected by the disorder. 

What are the early signs of ADHD in children?

While many healthy children are inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive, some may have the symptoms of ADHD. While these traits are not necessarily a sign of the disorder, parents should note that they can occur in children of any age. While some children exhibit symptoms of ADHD early in their development, others may have milder symptoms. If your child exhibits any of these signs, you should seek medical care to find out if they meet the criteria for ADHD.

One important thing to note is that the symptoms of ADHD in girls are often more subtle than in boys. This makes the disorder more difficult to detect and may not even be noticed in a child's behaviour. 

Although some symptoms of ADHD are evident in children as young as four, the signs often only become apparent as the child ages. While most symptoms appear at about age six, they must also be present for at least 6 months and impair the child's ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. This is why great care must be taken when diagnosing a child with ADHD before they turn five. A paediatrician or child psychiatrist is most qualified to diagnose a child with ADHD at this stage.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and they may also change over time.  Signs that a child may have ADHD include difficulty paying attention, being easily distracted, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, difficulty controlling behaviour, fidgeting, and restlessness. ADHD can also cause problems with impulsivity, such as acting without thinking, interrupting others, and difficulty waiting one’s turn.

What are the signs of ADHD in Adults?

While many children with ADHD outgrow the disorder, most adults with the condition continue to struggle with inattentive behaviour. The primary symptoms of adult ADHD include disorganisation and impulsivity, which can lead to poor work performance, rocky relationships, and other issues. Often, treatment with ADHD medication is prescribed.  

Among the symptoms of ADHD, adults often experience difficulties paying attention, completing tasks, or completing projects. They often neglect important details, such as conversations, directions, and deadlines. Some may also have difficulty sleeping and organising their time. Moreover, these symptoms can lead to other serious consequences, such as depression, anxiety disorder and a lack of self-esteem. If the problem is not detected early enough, the symptoms of ADHD can worsen and lead to a life filled with frustration.

People with ADHD often experience higher levels of other mental health disorders such as  anxiety compared to the general population.  Many experts believe that anxiety can indeed make ADHD symptoms worse. For example, anxiety can cause difficulty concentrating, which can make it even harder for someone with ADHD to focus on tasks and stay organised.

For an accurate diagnosis, the symptoms of ADHD in adults should have been present during childhood. If the symptoms are still present at age 12, the adult may have been diagnosable as a child, but was not properly diagnosed. It's also important to consider that the symptoms of adult ADHD may be due to other disorders, like depression, menopause, or alcohol use. 

How is ADHD diagnosed in children?

Attention Deficit Disorders are diagnosed by a doctor or other healthcare professionals after the child has been observed for several weeks. The diagnosis may be made based on the symptoms that the child has and how these observations affect their daily life. It's important to note that there is no single, definitive test for ADHD because it is a disorder of behaviour and observations rather than one of any specific physical or mental condition.   Each person will present with different symptoms and different levels of severity depending on their age and other factors.  If left untreated, ADHD can lead to problems with conduct, academics, and emotions like anger control.  

How is ADHD diagnosed in adults?

While ADHD is typically diagnosed in children and teenagers, it can be difficult to diagnose adults with ADHD.  Symptoms are more difficult to spot in adults.  An evaluation by a doctor and other professionals will include an interview with the person who is going through the diagnostic process.  The interviewer will ask questions about how the person’s daily activities, behaviour and emotions affect their daily life. 

If you have one or more of these symptoms, then you may be diagnosed with ADHD:
  • making careless mistakes at work.
  • being easily distracted by things going on around them.
  • failing to complete tasks that they start.
  • not following through on commitments.
It is important to note that while these are some criteria for diagnosing ADHD in adults, there are many other factors that could contribute to someone’s difficulty paying attention.

What are the causes of ADHD?

This is a question that doesn't have a straightforward answer, as the causes of ADHD are not fully understood. However, there are some potential contributing factors that have been identified. These include genetics, environment, diet, maternal smoking, being born prematurely, gut health and inflammation.

It's thought that genetics may play a role in ADHD, as the condition is often seen to run in families. Research suggests that certain genes may make people more susceptible to developing ADHD.

Environmental factors may also contribute to the development of ADHD. For example, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead has been linked to an increased risk of ADHD. Additionally, research has shown that children who experience trauma or neglect are more likely to develop the condition.

Diet is another potential factor that has been linked to ADHD. For example, some studies have suggested that artificial food additives may contribute to the development of ADHD symptoms. Additionally, a lack of certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, has been linked to an increased risk of ADHD.

Maternal smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to an increased risk of ADHD in children. Additionally, being born prematurely has been associated with a higher risk of developing ADHD.

Finally, gut health and inflammation have also been linked to ADHD. For example, children with ADHD are more likely to have gastrointestinal problems and a higher level of inflammation.

What are the treatments and therapies for ADHD?

A doctor will be able to run through the various treatment options that are available.

Some effective treatments and therapies for ADHD include behavioural therapy, medications, dietary changes or a combination of those.  Choosing a combination of treatments may be a wise choice, as they may work well together to lessen the symptoms.

Behavioural therapy teaches people with ADHD how to control their impulses and focus their attention. They also learn ways of dealing with distractions.  Medications can help ease the symptoms of ADHD by addressing the person’s hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattentiveness, and difficulty focusing on tasks at hand. These drugs may be prescribed for children or adults. Some side effects of these medications include headaches, stomachaches, weight gain, sleepiness during the day, irritability and mood swings. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating ADHD, many people find success with a combination of medication, behavioural therapy, and lifestyle changes. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common treatments for ADHD.

Medication

Stimulant medications are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. They work by increasing levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which are believed to be involved in regulating attention and behaviour.  An experienced doctor can work with you to prescribe the appropriate medication.

There are several types of stimulant medications used to treat ADHD, including:

Amphetamines: These medications, which include brand names like Adderall and Dexedrine, are available in both short- and long-acting formulations.

Methylphenidates: These medications, which include brand names like Ritalin and Concerta, are also available in both short- and long-acting formulations.

Non-stimulant medications are another option for treating ADHD. These medications work in different ways than stimulant medications and are often used in people who can’t tolerate the side effects of stimulants or who haven’t had success with stimulants.

Examples of non-stimulant medications used to treat ADHD include:

Atomoxetine: This medication, which is sold under the brand name Strattera, increases levels of the brain chemical norepinephrine.

Antidepressants: These medications are sometimes used to treat ADHD, even in people who don’t have depression. They are thought to work by increasing levels of brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy is another common treatment for ADHD. This type of therapy can help people with ADHD learn skills like time management, organisation, and anger management. Behavioural therapy may be conducted individually, in a group setting, or with the whole family. It may also be combined with medication to help maximise results.

Diet and nutrition

While there’s no specific diet that’s been proven to help with ADHD, some research has shown that certain nutritional deficiencies may contribute to symptoms. For example, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to ADHD. Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from food sources is the best way to ensure adequate intake. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, flaxseed, and chia seeds.

Making sure you’re getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals may also help reduce ADHD symptoms.  For nutritional deficiencies, it's wise to work with a qualified professional who can test for deficiencies and advise the appropriate diet or supplements to correct deficiencies.  

Other important diet and nutritional considerations include finding out if any foods in your diet are causing inflammation.  Inflammation has been linked to worsening the symptoms of ADHD.  Following an elimination diet, whereby suspect foods are removed, then brought back one-by-one may be beneficial. 

Can you reverse ADHD?

ADHD is a diverse condition that affects everyone differently. While there is no “cure” for ADHD, symptoms can be greatly minimised with the right treatment plan.

Many people can benefit from the treatments mentioned above. It’s important that you talk to a doctor about the best treatment for your child. It's possible to minimise the symptoms with medication, behavioural therapy, diet and other methods. There are many people with ADHD who learn coping skills to help them manage the condition in school, work and socially. This includes time management skills like setting deadlines, developing routines, or setting goals. 

If you would like some tips about reversing some of the symptoms of ADHD using dietary changes, that are backed up with evidence, please read our post - ADHD and improving concentration.

The are some similarities between Autism and ADHD, after all, ADHD is on the Autism Spectrum.  Read about the symptoms of autism here.

Author

Warren Gouin
Warren Gouin

I'm a parent of a child that was diagnosed with autism. I'm an engineer and scientist with most of my career in the diagnostic pathology industry. I'm passionate about improve health and I want to help other parents of children with autism.

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