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A Look at ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The parts affected control concentration, attention and impulsivity.

A child with ADHD can behave as if ‘up in the clouds’ or seem ‘dreamy’ or is hyperactive ‘always on the go’. They are unable to pay attention. The child finds it hard to filter all the information going into their brain so is easily distracted and responds before he has had enough time to consider things and also doesn’t know when to stop. He is therefore not able to follow instructions well, not able to concentrate as well as a child without ADHD and is often harder to settle and comfort. A child with ADHD usually has above-average intelligence but because of his difficulties, finds it hard to learn and socialize. It is not caused by bad parenting, but the severity of the symptoms and how well the child can learn to deal with them is often affected by the child’s environment and support. ADHD is long term and can continue through adult life. There is a genetic component and children with ADHD are often related to others with ADHD (usually male).

Symptoms: the three categories of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity.

Inattention: this usually becomes apparent when a child starts school because it is challenging. Inattention in adults with ADHD is usually apparent in work or social situations. A person with ADHD may have some or all of the following symptoms

  • Not listening to others, inability to follow rules, frequently changing the conversation
  • Irrelevant noises or events that others just ignore will distract the person with ADHD
  • Paying attention to details is difficult and careless mistakes are often made during school activities
  • Sustaining attention to an activity or task is very difficult like school work or paperwork
  • Frequently moving from uncompleted task to another
  • Putting things off – procrastination
  • Normal daily activities like bringing lunch or attending scheduled appointments are forgotten about. Housework or homework is forgotten about or left incomplete
  • Disorganisation

Hyperactivity: symptoms can be discovered in young pre-school children and are nearly always apparent before seven years of age. Symptoms include

  • Squirming when seated, fidgeting
  • Getting up frequently and walking or running around
  • Running or climbing when it is not appropriate and in teenagers this can be seen as restlessness
  • Find it difficult to play quietly
  • Always ‘on the go’
  • Excessive talking

Hyperactivity may vary with age and developmental stage. Toddlers and pre-school children with ADHD are nearly always moving around, climbing, jumping on furniture and running around. They find activities like listening to a story very difficult. School children with ADHD display similar behaviour but less frequently. They will not remain in their seats, squirm and fidget or talk excessively. In teenagers and adults, hyperactivity can manifest itself as restlessness and difficulties in participating in quiet sedentary activities.

Impulsivity: symptoms include

  • Impatience
  • Not giving themselves enough time before they make a response
  • Blurting out answers a question has been fully asked
  • Not being able to wait their turn
  • Often interrupting to the point of causing problems in work or social events
  • Starting conversation at inappropriate times

Impulsivity can lead to accidents such as banging into others or knocking things over. Children with ADHD can also try dangerous activities because they are unable to consider the potential consequences. They may climb to dangerous levels for example. These symptoms occur from time to time in normal children but with ADHD children these symptoms occur frequently at home, at school or when visiting friends. These symptoms make it difficult for the child to function normally.

Diagnosis: a diagnosis of ADHD in a child is made when they consistently display all or some of these symptoms in at least two settings like home and school and have been monitored for at least six months. Sometimes parents do not think the symptoms are being displayed at home because they do not have another child to compare to or they have just adjusted to their child’s behaviour and are handling it well. Your child must also not have another mood, anxiety or personality disorder that can cause the same symptoms. Generally, male children show more symptoms of hyperactivity and female children tend to show more symptoms of inattention. In adults, symptoms are very similar but the hyperactivity tends to manifest itself as restlessness, fidgeting, difficulty in relaxing or often feeling ‘on edge’.

Getting help: your doctor is your first point of help. It is very difficult to diagnose pre-school children unless the symptoms are very extreme. Once your child starts school the teacher will quickly be able to tell you if your child is behaving very differently from the rest of the children. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist if need be. Help can also be sought through educational psychologists, language specialists and occupational therapists. ADHD can be treated with support at school, behavioural therapy and medication.

By Eirian Hallinan

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