ADHD: Understanding the Basics


ADHD is a diagnosis established by the American Psychiatric Association. It is a disorder in which an individual has significant difficulty paying attention. If a person has a short attention span, is distractible, impulsive, and possibly engages in overactive behavior, these could be ADHD symptoms.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, an individual’s behavioral characteristics must appear to be very different from those at his developmental stage.  The behavioral ADHD symptoms must be excessive, pervasive, and must have an adverse effect on the individual’s ability to function in various settings.

What causes ADHD?

A specific cause of ADHD is not known at this time, although the disorder is considered to be a neurologically based condition.  The development of sophisticated technology, such as Positron Emission Topography (PET Scans), has made it possible to discern tiny differences in brain structure and functioning when comparing an individual with ADHD to an individual without the disorder.  In addition, there has been evidence of the involvement of a genetic link, as ADHD symptoms tend to run in families.  Children who have ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has it.  And at least one-third of all fathers who had pediatric ADHD have children who have the disorder.  In addition, the majority of identical twins share the trait.

Kinds of ADHD

Historically, ADHD was first described medically around the turn of the century.  are three subtypes under the overall term of ADHD (Predominantly Inattentive Type, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and Combined Type).

Symptoms of inattention

  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities

Symptoms of hyperactivity

  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents and adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
  • Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Often talks excessively

Symptoms of impulsivity

  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g. butt into conversations or games)


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