ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. It affects the ability to pay attention and control behavior.
Children may be inattentive, forgetful, disorganized, easily distracted, unable to follow instructions, or unable to listen or sustain attention. ADHD can also cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Children may fidget; run, climb or talk excessively; blurt answers or interrupt; or be unable to stay seated or wait their turn.
Some children have more problems with attention, others have more problems with hyperactivity, and others have problems in both areas.
ADHD is the official name given to the disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. An earlier name, ADD (attention-deficit disorder), is still used sometimes but generally refers to the same thing.
The cause of ADHD remains unknown, although, as with other disorders, it is probably caused by a combination of factors. Genetics play a large role. Studies also suggest a potential link between alcohol use, drug use and smoking during pregnancy and children with ADHD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Institute of Mental Health. Things that do not cause ADHD include poor parenting and excessive sugar intake, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a national nonprofit organization.
Research shows that ADHD most likely does run in families; 30% to 40% of children diagnosed with ADHD have relatives with the disorder.
ADHD should only be diagnosed after a thorough evaluation by a health professional with input from parents, other family members and teachers. Several symptoms must begin before age 12 and must be more frequent and severe than in other children of the same age. The symptoms must significantly hinder the child's ability to function in social or academic activities in at least two areas of his or her life, such as school and home, for at least six months.
Many children with ADHD do have other problems. ADHD is commonly associated with learning and language disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety and depression. That's why a thorough evaluation is necessary before a diagnosis of ADHD is made.
Children may receive a combination of medication, behavioral treatments and special education. Several stimulant medications and at least one non-stimulant medicine are available. They are safe and effective, with few side effects. And they are not addictive when taken as directed. Nine out of 10 children with ADHD respond to medication, though it can take time to find the medicine that works best.
Behavioral treatments may include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, social-skills training, support groups, and education for parents and teachers. Children with ADHD often receive special accommodation at school, since the disorder is recognized as a disability under federal legislation.
Children with ADHD who do not receive help may fail in school and have trouble making friends. They may develop low self-esteem and depression. They also are at increased risk for later drug and alcohol abuse.
Although it was once believed that children outgrew ADHD in adolescence, research now shows that more than three-quarters of them will continue to have symptoms as adults. This may interfere with success in jobs and relationships, as well as cause emotional problems.
ADHD is common, with 11% of school-age kids in the U.S. having ever been diagnosed. The disorder is more than twice as common among boys as among girls. ADHD affects about 4% of adults in the U.S., according to CHADD.
To learn more about ADHD, visit the ADHD health topic center. You can also read more at these websites:
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
- The American Psychiatric Association.