Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (commonly known as ADHD) is a condition that makes people feel restless, impulsive and hyperactive. With symptoms typically showing up in childhood, those with ADHD often struggle to concentrate for long periods of time.
While the condition is more commonly seen in children and teenagers, it can also affect adults. Here we’ll look into the types of ADHD, common symptoms and the different treatment options available.
Referred to as a behaviour disorder, ADHD can make everyday life difficult, especially for those at school. Key symptoms include hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsiveness. These tend to be noticed at an early age, often becoming more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change (for example if there is a change in school).
The symptoms usually improve with age, however, some adults continue to struggle. Sometimes the diagnosis isn’t made and therefore learning to manage it can be difficult.
There are three types of ADHD:
Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive is the most common type of ADHD seen by doctors.
The term ADD (attention deficit disorder) was used in the past, however it is generally no longer used. The criteria for ADHD changed to include the three subtypes described above, which includes what was currently in place to describe ADD (predominantly inattentive presentation).
There are two categories of ADHD symptoms, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most people will have a mix of the two, but this isn’t always the case. The lists below describe some of the common symptoms seen in children and teenagers.
Common signs of inattentiveness include:
Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
Common signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness include:
In environments like school, where young people are expected to sit quietly for long periods of time concentrating on tasks, it’s easy to see why those with ADHD struggle. Receiving a diagnosis and getting the right support can help make school and other social experiences easier.
As a child, I did not look like what most people picture as a kid with ADHD. I was shy and quiet. In school, I would daydream, only partially listening to my second-grade teacher drone on about long division.
- Read Liz’s story.
Sometimes, young people with ADHD can develop other conditions alongside ADHD. These can include anxiety disorders, depression, sleep problems, epilepsy, Tourette’s, learning difficulties and autism. If you’re worried about any of these, be sure to tell your doctor so they can investigate and ensure your child gets any additional support needed.
Symptoms in adults are less defined as currently, there is less research in adults with ADHD. Rather than developing at a later age, it’s believed that the condition will always have developed in childhood. Symptoms may then have been missed, or they may have been diagnosed, but symptoms have persisted into adulthood.
ADHD tends to affect adults in a different way and the symptoms are often much more subtle. Some symptoms that may be seen in adults include:
The cause of ADHD is not yet fully understood, however, a combination of factors are thought to contribute. Genetics are considered a significant factor, specifically the genes you inherit from your parents. There doesn’t appear to be a single genetic fault at play, however, so the way ADHD is inherited is likely to be complex.
Research has also shown that differences in the brain could contribute to ADHD. In brain scans, those with the condition are seen to have smaller areas in certain parts of the brain.
Certain groups have also been suggested as at higher risk of developing ADHD. This includes those who were born prematurely (or those with a low birth weight), those with epilepsy and those with brain damage.
If you suspect your child has ADHD a diagnosis can be helpful in ensuring you get the right support for them. Your first step should be to see your GP. While they cannot formally diagnose ADHD, they will be able to refer you to a specialist if they feel it’s necessary.
They may initially suggest a period of ‘watchful waiting’ - a certain amount of time (usually 10 weeks) to keep an eye on symptoms and see if they improve. They may also suggest ADHD-focused parent training or education programme. This is no reflection on your parenting, instead its aim is to help you learn more about ADHD and how you can support your child.
If your child’s behaviour doesn’t improve and yourself and your doctor agree it’s affecting everyday life, they should refer you to a specialist for assessment.
If you’re an adult and you think you have ADHD, your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and may refer you for an assessment if you meet the following criteria:
Treatment for ADHD usually involves medication or therapy, with a combination of the two working best for most people. Getting the right support and appropriate treatment can both help relieve symptoms and make day-to-day tasks easier.
There are various different types of medication that can be used to treat ADHD. While these should not be seen as a ‘cure’, they can help those with the condition concentrate better, feel calmer and more able to practise new skills.
There are several different therapy options that can be helpful for those with ADHD. These can also help with additional difficulties such as anxiety. Some therapies that may be suggested are:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talking therapy that helps you manage problems by looking to change the way you think and behave. This can be useful if there are certain situations you/your child find difficult. CBT is also a great way to help with any associated anxiety.
Our job as counsellors is to help our ADHD clients recognise what is working for them and see how they can move forwards with this.
- Read counsellor Sally Spinger’s article ‘What is it like to live with ADHD?.
This is generally used to provide support for parents/carers of children with ADHD and may also involve teachers. This therapy aims to help with behaviour management, using a reward system to help children learn to manage behaviour.
Training and education
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor may recommend certain education and training programmes for both yourself and your child. These could include:
There are currently no laws in place stipulating what training and qualifications a counsellor must have in order to treat someone with ADHD. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has developed a set of guidelines that provide advice for parents who have children with ADHD, about the recommended treatments:
Read the full NICE guidelines:
Counsellors treating people with ADHD may have to adjust the way they work, therefore it may be worth seeking a professional who has had experience in this area.