Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD Meaning & ADHD Symptoms

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a chronic condition involving inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.   

The symptoms manifest differently in everyone. What remains common is how the signs of ADHD may affect a person’s daily life, performance, relationships, and mental health. 

Research shows that the onset of ADHD does not have a single cause. Instead, the amalgamation of factors such as genes, environment, and neurology could trigger the symptoms.  

On the one hand, in children, ADHD symptoms could look like struggling with coursework or having meltdowns in a classroom.  

On the other hand, adults with ADHD may struggle with organising tasks, managing tasks, executive dysfunction, or maintaining relationships.  

Many have misconceptions about ADHD’s meaning and what it could truly look like in a person.  

Hence, we have expanded on ADHD symptoms, ADHD diagnosis, types, ADHD in adults, and how professional counselling and self-care tools might help.  

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD Symptoms in Children

As we saw in the previous section, the type and intensity of symptoms can be unique to the individual.  

Some children may have signs of inattention, while others tend to struggle with hyperactivity and impulsivity. All three symptoms can also occur together.  

ADHD symptoms are used to classify the diagnostic criteria. Hence, a psychologist may assess the child for several types of signs to provide an ADHD diagnosis. 

The two most common and easily identifiable symptoms in children are: 

  1. Inattention 
  1. Hyperactivity-impulsivity 

1. Inattention

Symptoms of inattention in children could be: 

2. Hyperactivity-Impulsivity

Some of the common symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity are: 

A girl with ADHD looking distracted, and her mother is pointing at the tablet during a study session.

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

ADHD in adults is complex and could present as observable traits or hidden behaviours.  

ADHD Diagnosis

Due to the increase in ADHD awareness, several people prefer to get an ADHD diagnosis. Identifying the signs and getting the right support can play a huge role in managing the condition.  

Hence, if you suspect you have the condition, you may benefit from an ADHD diagnosis. Psychologists are usually the right professionals to help you with assessment and diagnostic tests.  

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Adults with ADHD often struggle with more than one type of symptom. Some of the most common symptoms in adults are: 

All the above symptoms could exist together, or only one or two may present in the person’s life.  

Most symptoms are also interlinked. For example, if a person frequently forgets their partner’s important dates (eg birthday), the ‘forgetfulness’ symptoms may cause misunderstandings or make the partner feel less loved.  

However, remembering dates can be quite a struggle for those with ADHD. Even if they succeed in remembering the date, the person may become impulsive and throw the most expensive party for their partner.  

Without the right communication, these grand gestures, especially at the last minute, may cause conflicts and negative emotions.  

Executive Dysfunction in ADHD

Executive functions refer to mental skills we use to learn, work and manage daily life.

Dysfunction in these areas is highly prevalent in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and hinders people’s capacity to organise their thoughts, emotions, and actions. 

Key Executive Functions

Working memory: This is the active memory engaged in current tasks. For instance, your working memory is at play when you are reading or conversing.

Cognitive flexibility: Often termed fluid thinking, cognitive flexibility means the brain’s ability to transition between topics. A person with high cognitive flexibility can adjust swiftly to changes and are creative.

Inhibition control: Central to executive function, it regulates thoughts, emotions, and actions. It manifests in two primary ways:

  1. Behavioural control: The restraint one exercises to refrain from undesirable actions. Specifically, choosing not to react to a provoking individual or situation.

  2. Interference control: The capacity to focus on pertinent information while disregarding distractions. It can be external distractions or one’s own diverting thoughts.

Advanced Executive Functions

Planning: This element involves strategically planning steps to achieve an outcome (eg creating a daily routine and following it, or solving mathematical equations).  

Reasoning: This element involves thinking constructively to improve one’s knowledge or to better understand complex topics (eg engaging in research or analysis). 

Problem-solving: This element is a holistic function that uses all mental capabilities (ie decision-making, planning, and reasoning) to overcome challenges. 

Suppose any of these psychological functions in the brain are affected or disturbed due to certain factors (eg genes, environment). In that case, a person may be highly likely to have executive dysfunction.  

It is common for people to think they are lazy if they have ADHD, but in most cases, it is the executive dysfunction that’s making things harder. 

Lastly, a person may also find it hard to manage or control their thoughts and feelings if they have executive dysfunction. 

A man with ADHD symptoms looks stressed while studying. There are crushed papers and a notebook on the table.

ADHD Causes and Risk Factors

ADHD Causes

Scientists are researching the causes of ADHD in an effort to develop the right therapeutic tools to manage and reduce the chances of the onset of ADHD.  

The latest research shows that the exact cause of ADHD remains undetermined. 2021 studies highlight the links between genetics and ADHD. 

However, ADHD is not caused by one single factor, like genes.  

A mix of several social, emotional, psychological, genetic, and environmental elements may contribute to developing the condition.  

For example, some factors that could cause ADHD include: 

  • Major brain injury  
  • Brain anatomy and function (ie neurodiversity) 
  • Alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy  

Media portrayal and societal views may lead us to believe that eating too much sugar, poor parents, or increased screen time causes ADHD.  

However, scientists strongly do not support any of the above myths.  

Of course, many of the above factors could pose a risk of triggering the symptoms or making them worse. But the evidence is not strong enough to conclude these factors’ precise contribution.  

ADHD Risk Factors

As we saw in the above section, several factors could worsen the condition. 

Other potential risk factors include:

Types of ADHD

ADHD can manifest in many ways.  

Psychologists may categorise an assessment based on the predominant symptoms to provide ADHD diagnosis.  

The four main categories are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, combined, and unspecified ADHD.  

1. Predominantly Inattentive

This symptom was previously known as attention-deficit disorder (ADD). With ADD, psychologists mainly focused on inattentiveness and provided tools to improve attention. 

If this symptom is predominant, a person may struggle with focus, organisation, and completing tasks on time (eg procrastinating).  

Since inattentiveness is the most prominent sign, the person may show fewer symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity.  

2. Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

As the name suggests, a person with this primary symptom is restless, has excess energy, and is impulsive.  

Symptoms of impulsivity could manifest as rash driving, interrupting important conversations, or making major decisions without much thought about the consequences

3. Combined

The combined category includes symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactive impulsiveness.  

For an ADHD diagnosis with the combined type, a person usually has six symptoms from each category.  

Both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity are equally evident. It is the most common type of ADHD, accounting for approximately 70% of diagnoses. 

4. Unspecified ADHD

Some people may struggle with the symptoms of ADHD. However, since one specific type is not prevalent, they usually do not fall into any of the three categories listed above.  

In those cases, the person may receive a diagnosis of unspecified ADHD. 

Young person with ADHD symptoms.

ADHD Treatment

ADHD Treatments are available to manage and live comfortably with ADHD, either as a child or an adult. 

A therapeutic plan may include psychotherapy, medication, training, or a combination of several approaches (ie eclectic approach). 

Medications for ADHD

Medications can help improve a person’s ability to focus, learn, and manage emotions. Not everyone with ADHD requires medication.  

Whether you need medication depends on your symptoms’ intensity, needs, what works best for you, and your healthcare provider’s recommendations. 

Stimulants are the most prevalent medications prescribed for ADHD. Contrary to their name, they function by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine (brain neurotransmitters), which are instrumental in attention and cognition.  

Non-stimulants represent an alternative category of ADHD medications. Their onset of action is slower compared to stimulants, but they can equally improve focus and attention and control impulsivity.  

Medical professionals might opt for non-stimulants if a person experiences negative effects from stimulants, if the stimulant proves ineffective, or to complement a stimulant’s efficacy. 

Certain antidepressants, although not officially approved for ADHD treatment, can be prescribed either as standalone treatments or along with stimulants.  

They might be particularly beneficial if the person has comorbid conditions such as generalised anxiety or depression 

Psychosocial Interventions for ADHD

Living with ADHD as a child or as an adult can be hard in a world that is built for neurotypical people (ie people who have typical neurological development or functioning). 

Psychological intervention, social support, and inclusivity can play a huge role in making life easy for those with ADHD.  

However, at a more personal level, you can learn how to manage ADHD by understanding your symptoms and using practical self-care tools 

For adults, it can be helpful to learn organisation skills. Below are some pointers you can consider to improve daily productivity and quality of life: 

  • Write detailed lists of tasks. 
  • Maintain an up-to-date calendar. 
  • Set reminders for important activities. 
  • Use reminder notes either on the phone or in small notebooks. 

Focusing on structure and routine can be more helpful for children. Encourage children with ADHD to: 

  • Note down all the homework tasks. 
  • Allocate specific places for everyday items, such as school bags and toys. 

Always consult a professional therapist or doctor for specific advice on managing ADHD symptoms. Medical doctors can advise if you need any medications along with online therapy.  

Remember, you are not alone, and help is available.

During therapy to manage ADHD symptoms, a therapist is teaching tools to a child.

Coping With ADHD

Living with ADHD as a child or as an adult can be hard in a world that is built for neurotypical people (ie people who have typical neurological development or functioning).

Psychological intervention, social support, and inclusivity can play a huge role in making life easy for those with ADHD. 

However, at a more personal level, you can learn how to manage ADHD by understanding your symptoms and using practical self-care tools

For adults, it can be helpful to learn organisation skills. Below are some pointers you can consider to improve daily productivity and quality of life:

  • Write detailed lists of tasks.
  • Maintain an up-to-date calendar.
  • Set reminders for important activities.
  • Use reminder notes either on the phone or in small notebooks.

For children, it can be more helpful to focus on structure and routine. Encourage children with ADHD to:

  • Note down all the homework tasks.
  • Allocate specific places for everyday items, such as school bags and toys.

Always consult a professional therapist or doctor for specific advice on managing ADHD symptoms. Medical doctors can advise if you need any medications along with therapy. 

Remember, you are not alone, and help is available.

Frequently Answered Questions

Do I have ADHD or anxiety?

It is also vital to differentiate ADHD from other conditions like stress, sleep disorders, or anxiety, which might exhibit similar symptoms. Hence, a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional is necessary.

Although distinct, ADHD and anxiety can sometimes present with overlapping symptoms. Consequently making the diagnosis a nuanced process. 

On one hand, persistent patterns of inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity characterise attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Conversely, anxiety manifests as excessive worry, restlessness, and physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat.

To diagnose ADHD, healthcare professionals rely on DSM-5. The process involves:

  • Gathering a comprehensive medical and symptom history.

  • Evaluating developmental, academic, emotional, and social functioning.
  • Using ADHD testing like symptom rating checklists.
  • Consulting with parents, teachers, or family members about observed behaviours.

  • Assessing hearing and vision to eliminate other medical conditions.

For anxiety, on the other hand, the diagnosis is based on symptom assessment and ensuring no other medical issues are causing the symptoms. 

However, it is worth noting that individuals can have both ADHD and anxiety. In fact, a significant percentage of those with ADHD may also exhibit anxiety symptoms.

For example, someone with ADHD might frequently misplace their keys, leading to daily stress and the constant worry of being late. Therefore, this routine stress, combined with the challenges of managing ADHD, can intensify feelings of anxiety.

Woman with ADHD using a laptop.

What are some examples of executive dysfunction in ADHD?

Executive dysfunction is a common symptom of mental health conditions that makes it hard to start or finish tasks, initiate an activity, make a decision, and so on. 

When the brain’s executive functions (eg thinking, reasoning, deciding) do not work as they should, it can affect a person’s daily life in several ways. 

Some of the common examples include:

  • Easily becoming distracted or struggling to maintain focus
  • Over-focusing (ie hyperfocus) on a single detail instead of looking at the ‘bigger picture’
  • Daydreaming during important or priority moments, such as work meetings or academic presentations
  • Challenges in visualising the end result of a particular activity or action 
  • Procrastinating excessively, especially when faced with complex tasks
  • Difficulty switching between tasks or multitasking
  • Misplacing items 
  • Making rash decisions and choices (eg impulse-control issues)
  • Speaking without prior thought, potentially causing unintended harm
  • Struggling to articulate thoughts and feelings

Is ADHD trendy now?

This is a question many ponder. Historically, mental health disorders were stigmatised. As a result, it led many to suffer in silence. Similarly, the pressure to cope in an unyielding world meant that diagnoses were often reserved only for severe cases. 

At the present time, things are changing. As society evolves, the demands for focus, organisation, and time management have intensified. Hence, it has made ADHD symptoms more noticeable. 

However, this does not mean ADHD is ‘trendy’. Instead, we (as a society) have started shedding light on previously overshadowed conditions. Moreover, with growing awareness, a lot of people are consulting professionals early on, leading to more ADHD diagnoses.

Therefore, early intervention is often a good thing when it comes to managing ADHD. In essence, more people seeking professional support means more people prioritising their mental health and wellness!

Is ADHD the correct term?

Researchers and people with lived experience often note that the ‘attention deficit’ in ADHD is a misnomer.

Rather than lacking attention, ADHD causes attention to fluctuate unpredictably. In other words, people with ADHD are driven more by interest than by what is ‘important’ or ‘urgent’. 

For example, imagine a scenario where a mother asks the teenager to clean their room. To the mother, cleaning might be important, especially if the room is messy or unclean. 

However, the teenager may be preoccupied with a hobby and may prioritise engaging in their activity rather than cleaning. 

People with ADHD often say:

“When I’m in the zone, I can focus on anything.”

‘The zone’ usually refers to a term in ADHD called hyperfocus, which is a deep and unwavering concentration on tasks that a person likes.

However, hyperfocus is not a switch to flip. A person has hyperfocus only from genuine curiosity, a sense of challenge, new experiences, or immediate necessity. When these are aligned, people with ADHD have remarkable attention.

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