Imagine living in a world where sights, sounds, images and thoughts are
constantly changing and shifting. Unable to focus on whatever task is at hand,
your mind wanders from one activity or thought to the next. Sometimes you become
so lost among all the thoughts and images that you don’t even notice when
someone is speaking to you.
This is what it is like for many people who have Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Once called hyperkinesis or minimal brain
dysfunction, ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders among children. It
affects 3 to 5 percent of all children, and it is likely to occur two to three
times more in boys than in girls.
People who have ADHD may be unable to sit still, plan ahead, finish
tasks, or be completely aware of what is going on in the world around them.
However, on some occasions, they may appear “normal”, leading others to believe
that the person with ADHD can control such behaviors. As a result of this, ADHD
can hinder the person’s relationships and interactions with others in addition
to disrupting their daily life and lowering self-esteem.
To determine whether or not a person has ADHD, specialists must consider
several questions: Do these behaviors occur more often than in other people of
the same age? Are the behaviors an ongoing problem, not just a response to a
temporary situation? Do the behaviors occur only in one specific place or in
several different settings?
In answering these questions, the person’s behavior patterns are
compared to a set of criteria and characteristics of ADHD. The Diagnostic
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) presents this set of criteria.
According to the DSM, there are three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD:
inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
According to the DSM, signs of inattention include: becoming easily
distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds; failing to pay attention to details
and making careless mistakes; rarely following instructions carefully and/or
completely; and constantly losing or forgetting things like books, pencils,
tools, and such.
Some signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity, according to the DSM, are:
the inability to sit still, often fidgeting with hands and feet; running,
climbing, or leaving a seat in situations where sitting or quiet, attentive
behavior is required; difficulty waiting in line or for a turn; and blurting out
answers before hearing the entire question.
However, because almost everyone will behave in these manners at some
time, the DSM has very specific guidelines for determining if they indicate ADHD.
Such behaviors must appear early in life, before age 7, and continue for at
least 6 months. For children, these behaviors must occur more frequently and
severely than in others of the same age. Most of all, the behaviors must create
a true handicap in at least 2 areas of the person’s life (e.g. school, home,
work, social settings).
One of the difficulties in diagnosing ADHD is that it is usually
accompanied by other problems. Many children who have ADHD also have a learning
disability. This means that they have trouble with certain language or academic
skills, commonly reading and math. A very small number of people with ADHD also
have Tourette’s syndrome. Those affected by Tourette’s syndrome may have tics,
facial twitches, and other such movements that they cannot control. Also, they
may grimace, shrug, or yell out words abruptly.
Almost half of all children with ADHD, mostly boys, have another
condition known as oppositional defiant disorder. This sometimes develops into
more serious conduct disorders. Children with this disorder, in conjunction with
ADHD, may be stubborn, have outbursts, and act belligerent or defiant. They may
take unsafe risks and break laws — ultimately getting them into trouble at
school and with the police.
Still, not all children with ADHD have an additional disorder. The same
is true for people with learning disabilities, Tourette’s syndrome, etc. They do
not all have ADHD with their initial disorder. However, when ADHD and such
disorders do occur together, the problems can seriously complicate a person’s
As we speak, scientists are discovering more and more evidence
suggesting that ADHD does not stem from home environment, but from biological
causes. And over the past few decades, health professionals have come up with
possible theories about what causes ADHD. But, they continue to emphasize that
no one knows exactly what causes ADHD. There are just too many possibilities
for now to be certain about the exact cause. Therefore, it is more important
for the person affected and their family to search for ways to get the right
A common method for treating ADHD is the use of medications. Drugs known
as stimulants seem to have been the most effective with both children and adults
who have ADHD. The three which are most often prescribed are: methylphenidate
(Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine or Dextrostat), and pemoline (Cylert).
For many, these drugs dramatically reduce hyperactivity and improve their
ability to focus, work, and learn. Research done by the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH) also suggests that medications such as these may help
children with accompanying conduct disorders control their impulsive,
However, these drugs don’t cure ADHD, they only temporarily control the
symptoms. Many health professionals recommend that these medications be used in
combination with some type of therapy, training, and/or support group. Such
options include: psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skills
training, parental skills training (for parents with ADHD children), and support
Although most people with ADHD don’t “outgrow” it, they do learn how to
adapt and live better, more fulfilling lives. With the proper combination of
medicine, family, and emotional support, people who have ADHD can develop ways
to better control their behavior.
Through further studies, scientists are better understanding the nature
of biological disorders. New research is allowing us to better understand how
our minds and bodies work, along with new medicines and treatments that continue
to be developed. Even though there is no immediate cure for ADHD, research
continues to provide information, knowledge, and hope.