Fast Facts

About ADHD

What Is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that involves problems with inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that are developmentally inconsistent with a child's age. It is not a disorder of inattention, but rather a function of developmental failure in the brain circuitry that monitors inhibition and self-control. This loss of self-regulation impairs other important brain functions crucial for maintaining attention, including the ability to defer immediate rewards for later gain (Barkley, 1998a).

ADHD can also include excessive motor activity. This hyperactivity is often viewed as noncompliance; however, it is a direct manifestation of the disorder itself. Children with ADHD demonstrate a range of symptoms and different levels of severity. They have at least average intelligence and typically there is comorbidity with other disorders, such as learning disabilities.

What Are the Categories of ADHD?

The behavior associated with ADHD has two main categories: poor sustained attention and hyperactivity-impulsiveness. Three subtypes of the disorder have been defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV): predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined types (Barkley, 1997).

What Are Some Characteristics of ADHD?

Children with hyperactivity are often fidgety, have difficulty staying seated, and act as if driven by a motor. Children exhibiting impulsivity act before thinking through to the consequences of their behavior, have trouble taking turns, blurt out answers, interrupt, and go from one task to another before completion. They have difficulty in school because they do not attend to directions, cannot sustain attention for long periods of time, fail to pay attention to details, make careless mistakes, and avoid tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

The main symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These occur early in a child's life and appear over the course of many months. Different symptoms appear in different settings depending on the demands of the task imposed on the child.

Signs of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity

  • Feeling restless, fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming when seated
  • Running, climbing, or leaving seat when expected to be quiet or sitting
  • Blurting out answers before hearing the entire question
  • Having difficulty waiting in line or taking turns

Signs of Inattention

  • Easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
  • Failing to pay attention to details and making careless mistakes
  • Rarely following instructions carefully and losing or forgetting things
  • Skipping from one uncompleted activity to another

Is ADHD Related to Learning Disabilities?

Almost one-third of all children with ADHD have concomitant Learning Disabilities. They have difficulty in reading, written language, and math. ADHD has comorbidity with other disorders. At least 40-60 percent of children with ADHD have at least one coexisting disability. Certain common disabilities include disruptive behavior disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, tics and Tourettes Syndrome, and Learning Disabilities.

What Are the Effects of ADHD?

ADHD affects both academic and social functioning of children diagnosed with this disorder. Children of the hyperactive-impulsive type may show aggressive behaviors, while children of the inattentive type may be withdrawn and often go unrecognized.

How Prevalant Is ADHD?

Approximately 1.46 to 2.46 million children or 3 to 5 percent of the student population have ADHD. Boys are four to nine times more likely to have the disorder and it is found in all cultures.

What Is the Cause of ADHD?

Researchers believe that children with ADHD are unable to inhibit their impulsive motor control to sensory input. It is suspected that ADHD is genetic and the environment helps determine specific behaviors. Furthermore, studies found that the right prefrontal cortex (part of the cerebellum) and at least two of the clusters of nerve cells or basal ganglia are significantly smaller in children with ADHD. Other factors linked to ADHD included premature birth, maternal alcohol and tobacco use, high levels of lead exposure, and prenatal neurological damage.

How Is ADHD Identified?

Some of the behaviors associated with ADHD must be exhibited to an abnormal degree. There are specific criteria set forth by the DSM-IV for a person to be diagnosed with ADHD and they include: severity, early onset, duration, impact, and settings.

What Educational Services Are Available?

Children diagnosed with ADHD are eligible for services under IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. They may be eligible under Specific Learning Disability, Emotional Disturbance, or other relevant disability categories, such as Other Health Impaired.

What Does a Comprehensive Evaluation Include?

A comprehensive evaluation includes a behavioral evaluation, an educational evaluation, and a medical evaluation.

What Is the Treatment for ADHD?

There are several options in the treatment for ADHD which include behavioral, pharmacological, and multimodal approaches. Research indicates that for many children with ADHD, the best way to mitigate the symptoms is through the use of a combined approach. In other words, researchers found that the combined medication/behavior treatment is highly effective rather than just a behavioral approach.

Does ADHD Affect School Performance?

ADHD can make school very challenging for children with this disorder. Typically, the behaviors exhibited by these children interfere with the learning process and poor academic achievement is the end result. The constant disruption, inability to attend to instruction, noncompliance with school rules, impulsivity, lack of attention to detail, and limited sustained mental effort make learning extremely difficult. The core symptoms of ADHD which include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity affect a child's social, emotional, and academic growth.

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