ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder) are disorders that are most commonly seen in children.
These disorders are behavioral disorders and can be linked to symptoms including hyperactivity, inability to focus, inability to pay attention to tasks, etc. Even though this disorder is most commonly seen in children, it is seen in adults infrequently also.
Recently the classification of ADHD/ADD has turned to just ADHD, as these disorders are seen to be largely the same. Knowing which symptoms to look for, the diagnoses process, and the availability of treatment options can help provide some level of stress relief for parents who suspect their child may be having trouble linked to ADHD.
It can also help any adult who thinks they may be showing symptoms to identify the issue and seek help in dealing with the issue. This can help improve the quality of life of both children and adults who are suffering from ADHD.
How Prevalent is ADHD?
According to Health Line, as many as 6.4 million children are affected by ADHD in the United States. This should be a comforting statistic for anyone who may be affected or who’s child may be affected (or simply showing symptoms).
The average age of a child that is diagnosed with ADHD is approximately 6-7 years old, however symptoms often show before this age. Some of the early signs are shrugged off as ‘toddler learning’ and are often ignored until the child is school age and possibly struggling in school. This can be hard for a child to deal with, but it should be taken into account that up to 6.1% of children are being medicated for ADHD, meaning your child/ren are not alone.
It is estimated that 50-65% of children who experience ADHD symptoms as children will likely experience the same symptoms as an adult. This means it is important to learn about what ADHD is, how it is handled, and how you can live with this disorder if it is in your family or if it is something you struggle with.
ADHD/ADD and the Brain
The brain is often recognized as one of the most complex biological machines in existence, and it is hard to accurately portray connections between how the brain works and diseases that affect it.
Many studies have and continue to be performed on the effect of ADHD on the brain and vice versa, but we still have not found a clean connection to what may cause ADHD or understand how it affects the brain. As we discover new links to ADHD and the brain, we can also discover new treatments as well.
There have been some very important discoveries that have linked ADHD to the parts of the brain that it affects, and these discoveries are helping lead us closer to prevention and better treatment. To find this information, scans are performed on people who have ADHD, and also on people who do not.
This can help illuminate the differences in an ADHD affected brain and one that does not have ADHD. MRI scans can help determine what parts of the brain are affected by comparing these results.
An initial finding in this regard has been that on average, the brain of an ADHD affected child seems to be about 3% smaller than a normal child’s brain. It also has shown that parts of the brain are observably smaller also, like the frontal lobes (which are responsible for decision making and reason).
Some of the neural pathways are smaller and shorter as well, as compared to children who do not have ADHD. All of this information can help the research process about ADHD move further along, therefore closer to finding a cure and prevention.
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD/ADD
Because some children have higher than normal energy by their nature, it can be tough to identify if they are affected by ADHD or not. Sometimes it becomes necessary to look for other symptoms, such as inability to focus, inability or unwillingness to complete tasks all at once, bursts of hyperactivity, etc.
While a child having trouble focusing can be natural for younger children, the severity of a child not being able to focus worsening or making it difficult for them to learn new things can be indicative of ADHD/ADD. A child that constantly has no focus may be affected by ADHD and require further testing.
Signs of ADHD/ADD in adults
Sometimes some of the signs of ADHD in adults are not as obvious. This can be because they may have a mild case, or they may have adapted to their life as they know it. The symptoms can also be mistaken for other things as well such as fatigue, stress, or being overworked. Some of the most common symptoms of adult ADHD/ADD are:
- Difficulty prioritizing tasks and getting them done in order
- Finding it difficult to focus on one task for a period of time
- Missing deadlines or due dates
- Forgetting to attend social events or business meetings
- Exhibiting impulsive behavior
- Not being able to manage their time effectively or finding it difficult to multitask
- Feeling restless
- Excessively committing to activities
- Frequent and unpredictable mood swings
- Difficulty coping with stress
Showing some or all of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate that someone has ADHD/ADD, but showing these symptoms very frequently or seeing problems because of the symptoms may be indicative that they are suffering from ADHD/ADD.
Consistency in the symptoms is the biggest key to whether or not someone is suffering from ADHD/ADD. Of course, a physician or mental health specialist can assist in determining the severity of the symptoms and the likelihood that they are linked to ADHD/ADD
Signs of ADHD/ADD in children
Symptoms in children are similar to the symptoms in adults, to a different extent. Some of the symptoms may appear to be ‘regular children issues’, but again, consistency is key to determining whether it is ADHD/ADD or not. Some of the symptoms for ADHD/ADD in children are:
- The child seems to be in constant motion
- The child seems to participate in activities even if they seem remedial
- The child is constantly fidgeting and may have trouble sitting still
- The child seems to have trouble listening to simple instructions or has trouble carrying them out
- The child intrude or interrupt on conversations without considering the social implications (if it is rude or inappropriate or not)
- The child seems to become distracted when asked to do simple tasks
It is very important to realize and understand that not all symptoms are cut and dry. Each person will experience a symptoms a different way, and may exhibit their symptoms differently than that is ‘typical’
Because everyone experiences the symptoms of ADHD/ADD differently, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose ADHD/ADD. They symptoms do not always indicate ADHD/ADD either, so it can be tough to pinpoint the disorder.
It is up to a doctor to diagnose and treat ADHD/ADD. There are no official tests for ADHD/ADD, but diagnoses are determined on different questions and behavior observances.
When it is a child who’s diagnosis is in question, the doctor may speak with caregivers, parents, and anyone else who may be able to describe the child’s activities. Some of the questions that may be asked are
- What are the exact symptoms that the child has that make you think it could be ADHD?
- How long has the child been showing these signs?
- How severe and how often are the symptoms?
- Have the symptoms affected their school work or their life, or other children in school or family?
The doctor will gather all of the information that they need to make the determination if it is ADHD/ADD or not. Once they are able to confirm their suspicions about ADHD, they will order more observations and examinations. Sometimes this includes physical exam and/or brain scans to support the information.
The process for an adult is very similar. A doctor may request to speak to family members, friends, etc to make a determination on if their symptoms are ADHD or something else.
Conditions with ADHD/ADD related symptoms
Some of the symptoms with ADHD/ADD are not necessarily indicative of a mental disorder. The reason doctors will delve into your life or your child’s life if they suspect ADHD is to make sure they aren’t taking the diagnosis lightly.
Major changes in life events, high stress, and other factors can cause these symptoms temporarily, and do not always indicate a problem with that individual.
If a child or adult is misdiagnosed with ADHD/ADD it can cause more harm than good, so it is important to make sure that the diagnosis is correct before the treatment is started.
Some of the most common conditions that are mistaken for ADHD/ADD are:
- Learning Disabilities: these are considered a mental disorder also but can seem to be ADHD. This generally is different than ADHD because it is not for lack of focus that the child or adult has trouble learning. It is for other reasons than hyperactivity or trouble focusing. Those with learning disorders can focus just fine but may have trouble retaining the information
- A major life event: sometimes cases of extreme stress can cause temporary symptoms that may appear to be ADHD/ADD. It can be divorce, death in the family, struggle with family, losing a friend, moving, etc. Stress manifests in different ways but it can also seem like ADHD because of some of the similarities
- Medical Conditions: some medical conditions can cause mental health issues in children and adults and appear to be ADHD/ADD. Some examples include sleep disorders, epilepsy, thyroid disorders, etc.
- Psychological Disorders: some psychological disorders can make a child or adult experience ADHD/ADD symptoms. Depression and anxiety will exhibit some ADHD/ADD symptoms, albeit not consistently, and bipolar disorder can do the same.
Once a doctor can rule these other potential issues out, it will make it easier to determine whether or not the symptoms are in fact ADHD/ADD or something else. ADHD/ADD is not an exclusive diagnosis, however. It can be in addition to some of these other disorders and still be a valid diagnosis.
Different Types of ADHD/ADD
While ADHD/ADD affects children and adults alike, it is important to know that there are different types of ADHD/ADD and that it can affect everyone a little differently. There are three sub categories that doctors use to classify different aspects of the disorder:
This version of ADHD/ADD is one of the two that is very symptom specific. There are generally 9 different symptoms associated with this version of the disorder, and someone generally has to show 6/9 symptoms to be diagnosed with this version:
- They do not focus on the details of the tasks or projects they need to complete
- They are prone to making mistakes that seem careless
- They are unable to keep focused on a specific task or fail to complete the task at all
- They are unable to pay attention in general situations
- They do not listen when spoken to
- They aren’t able to fully understand instructions, therefore they do something in a different way or not at all
- They are prone to forgetting things, even simple things
- They are prone to losing important items that are needed to complete simple tasks
- They get distracted easily, even by small things that should not cause a distraction
Patients with this version of ADHD typically are not hyperactive, therefore their issue is not with hyperactivity but their ability to focus
This version of ADHD/ADD is due to hyperactivity. Just like the above mentioned version, it is the other of the two symptom specific versions of ADHD/ADD, and needs to exhibit at least 6 of the following symptoms to be a correct diagnosis:
- They are constantly fidgeting or squirming
- They are getting up frequently when they are supposed to be sitting. This is common in a classroom setting for children when they are forced to sit still for long periods of time
- They climb objects when it seems inappropriate
- They find it difficult to be quiet
- They talk excessively
- They often interrupt conversations or don’t pay attention to who is speaking already
- They speak out of turn and often blurt out what they have to say (sometimes it is random and doesn’t make sense at all in the context)
The easiest way to see this version of ADHD/ADD is to view it as the incessant need to move constantly. Restlessness is common with this version of ADHD/ADD. Unlike those who have the Inattentive version of ADHD/ADD, this version does not stay quiet and their hyperactivity is what causes them to not be able to focus.
Combined ADHD/ADD is the version of ADHD/ADD that shows both types of ADHD/ADD. The symptoms of this are a combination of the above. This typically means the patient shows equal or close to equal symptoms from both of the above versions. Typically they have to show 6 symptoms from each side to be considered Combined ADHD/ADD
The Positive side of ADHD/ADD
ADHD/ADD can be a difficult diagnosis to deal with, and can often disrupt the lives of the people around you. It does not have to be a bad thing, however once it is diagnosed and help can be provided. There are also some positive aspects that are associated with people who ADHD as well:
- The people who have ADHD are often seen as very creative and have a beautiful imagination. Even though they can become distracted at the smallest things, they tend to notice things that others may miss. Because of this they are able to view things a different way and can be more creative because of it.
- They tend to be open minded to different treatment options instead of being focused on just one. They are flexible when it comes to decision making and they can even be known to make better decisions also
- They are typically full of energy and have the motivation to continue what they are doing. They have the energy to continue the task at hand, despite being distracted sometimes
While there is not complete cure to ADHD/ADD there are many options available that can at least improve quality of life to ADHD/ADD patients. Because the brain of someone with ADHD/ADD works slightly differently than the brain of someone without, there has been medical research that is promising to making a change.
Typically it is a combination of treatment options that makes the biggest difference, and can make a dramatic impact in their lives. The three primary treatment options are special education programs, psychological interventions, and medication. Healthy, balanced meals can also help make a difference in how the body handles the symptoms of ADHD/ADD
Special Education Programs
Special Education programs are available if the disorder is interrupting the ability to do well in school. It is not always necessary, but is a great resource for any child who needs help with their school work as a result of their mental disorder.
The level of special attention required differs with every child and the severity of their case. Assistive Technology (AT) Devices can be helpful, such as recording devices for lectures or work instructions, help keep the student organized, and reminders can help keep the student on task and up their chances of success in school
Psychological Intervention is also called behavior programs. There are many ADHD/ADD specific programs to help manage the symptoms. These programs assist the patient in creating the much needed structure to maintain a healthy, happy life.
They encourage a patient to maintain routines and reward for fulfilling the routines. This causes positive reinforcement, which makes the habits easier to keep. These programs can also help with social skills and may be in the form of support groups also. This allows patients and their family to share tips and receive advice in a safe setting
There is a range of different medication that is designed for ADHD/ADD patients. The type of drug, dosage, and frequency will vary from patient to patient, depending on severity of their case.
The most common type of medication for ADHD/ADD is stimulants. These will help the patients focus on their thoughts. They also can help the patient ignore distractions and improve their ability to stay focused on their tasks. WebMD reports that up to 80% of people on ADHD/ADD medication report that stimulants do in fact work for them.
These can be used to treat anywhere from mild to severe ADHD/ADD symptoms. There are short acting, intermediate acting, and long acting versions of these medications, and they require a prescription to obtain. Most side effects are relatively mild, but include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and increased heart rate.
The other version of medication that is available to ADHD/ADD patients are non-stimulants. Sometimes these are recommended for those who aren’t able to take stimulants or who have had a hard time with stimulants in the past. Non stimulants can typically be prescribed to patients of all ages, and can come with less side effects than stimulants.
While there are different treatment options available, the ADHD/ADD diagnosis can still cause the need to change a routine a little bit. It is necessary to adopt one or more of the treatment options to maintain a routine to improve the quality of life.
Some aspects and symptoms will have to be tolerated, while others can be changed with the simple changes listed above. The patient and their family and friends can work together to alleviate some of the symptoms and improve their quality of life. Some other tips to helping with ADHD include:
- Do not postpone getting a diagnosis. The sooner you know if it is ADHD/ADD or not, the sooner you can make the changes necessary to cope with it. The sooner treatment starts, the sooner the patient will see a difference in their quality of life.
- Stick with a structure. ADHD/ADD patients tend to do really well with structure and routines
- Set a goal of expectations. Children especially do better if they know what is expected of them and what they need to do. They also need to know what the consequences are if they stray from the rules.
- ADHD/ADD patients benefit greatly from regular exercise, healthy diet, and good sleep schedule. These can help improve the symptoms of this disorder.