ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) tends to first appear prior to the age of seven, and continues into adolescence, and at times into adulthood. ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity that is substantive, impairing and significantly more prominent than population norms. ADHD is present in all environments, including with friends, at home and at school and impacts the ability to function.

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood affecting around 5% of children. Approximately 65% of children with ADHD will continue to meet diagnostic criteria during adolescence. Prevalence in adulthood is approximately 3%.  Impulsivity and hyperactivity often lead to disruptive behaviour, which is noticed in the classroom. To be diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms (see Criteria for Diagnosis below) must be shown in two or more settings.

Watch this video to learn more about teenage ADHD



Watch this video to learn more about childhood ADHD


What Causes ADHD?

From what we know today, ADHD has an important genetic component, tending to run in families, and approximately 75% of immediate family members have ADHD.

ADHD is diagnosed more often in boys than girls.  Girls with ADHD generally have difficulty sustaining attention, but often do demonstrate as much hyperactivity as boys. Girls who have trouble paying attention often daydream, but inattentive boys are more likely to play or fiddle aimlessly.

How Do You Know If Someone You Love Has ADHD?

• Frequently make multiple activities without completing any
• Failure to give close attention to detail (messy, distractible, often misimportant information)
• Difficulty in following things through (i.e.. instructions, order of activities)
• Easily distracted by stimuli in the environment (such as noise) and will avoid tasks that require significant attention (such as chores)
• Difficulty maintaining attention, parents may often hear that ‘this kid doesn’t listen’
• Rush into things such as games or other activities without taking the time to learn the rules or determine what they should do
• Organizational difficulties (such as spacing between each word, or doing the next math problem)
• Lose things (can’t keep track of their possessions)
• Forget (appear forgetful but its usually because they were not paying attention to instructions)

• Difficulty staying in one place (such as sitting in a desk or in a group)
• Younger children may run around the room or climb on furniture instead of focusing on group activities
• Fidgeting, talking excessively, making noises during quiet activity and generally seeming wound up or driven
• Often ‘on the go’ as if driven by a motor

• Often shown as impatience or low frustration tolerance
• Will often interrupt others, fail to listen to instructions, rush into situations without thinking about the consequences, etc
• Do not seem to be able to learn from negative experiences (impulsivity seems to override dangers)
• Difficulty waiting their turn
• Frequently interrupting or blurting out answers to questions

Why Do They Sometimes Seem Engaged and Focused?

• ADHD is often less pronounced in activities that require a great deal of physical participation and that are enjoyed by the participant
• They may seem less distracted when they are playing games that they like – especially video games
• Symptoms are more likely to be noticed when the young person is in a group setting in which sustained and quiet attention is needed, or when they are working in an environment in which there are many distractions

What are the Criteria for Diagnosis of ADHD?

There must be at least 6 symptoms from each of the following categories: inattention; hyperactivity; impulsivity PLUS a duration of at least 6 months to a degree that the person demonstrates maladaptive behaviours and trouble functioning that is inconsistent with their level of development. These symptoms must be present before age 7, and the symptoms must also be present in two or more settings (home, school, social).

Inattention (at least six of the following)
1 - failure to give close attention or many careless errors in work requiring sustained attention (such as school work)
2 - difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play
3 - does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
4 - does not follow through on instructions
5 - has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
6 - avoids tasks that require sustained attention (such as homework)
7 - loses things needed for tasks and activities
8 - easily distracted by the environment
9- forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactivity (at least six of the following)
1 - fidgets or squirms while seated
2 - leaves seat in classroom or when is suppose to be seated
3 - runs about or climbs excessively when not appropriate
4 - has difficulty in solitary play or quiet activities
5 - is usually on the go, as if motor driven
6 - often talks excessively

Impulsivity (are included in the number of symptoms for hyperactivity)
7 - blurts out comments or answers to questions before he/she should
8 - has difficulty waiting for his/her turn
9 - often interrupts or intrudes on others

Someone in Your Life is Diagnosed with ADHD, Now What?

  • Get well informed
  • Ask your health professional to provide you with educational material
  • Some youth with ADHD will become demoralized because of constant reminders from teachers, parents and other about their ‘bad behaviour’. Remember that these young people are not bad – they simply have difficulty sustaining attention
  • Try not to decrease their self-esteem by focusing only on what they have difficulty doing, focus on their strengths as well

What Treatment Options Exist?

• Medication (the most effective treatment for symptoms)
• Social Skills Training
• Behavioural Therapy
• Modifications to the Learning Environment (i.e. quieter places to work, or homework done in small amount over a long period of time)

Learning difficulties are common, educational testing should be done to determine if a learning disability is present.

Other Disorders That May Commonly Occur Alongside ADHD Include:

• Tourettes Syndrome
• Conduct Disorder
• Oppositional Defiant Disorder
• Learning Disorder (if learning difficulties are present, educational and psychological testing should be performed in order to offer remedial learning strategies)
• Substance Disorder
• Tic Disorder

Resources for Teens and Families

Evidence Based Medicine
Understanding My Medications

Other Helpful Resources

Teach ADHD
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Centre for ADD/ADHD Advocacy, Canada
Sick Kids: About Kids Health - ADHD

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