Many people have difficulty concentrating at times, or become restless and fidgety when they feel bored. But when these kinds of difficulties happen all the time in most or all settings, and don’t improve with age or maturity, then the possibility of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be of concern. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is commonly called, consists of three central features: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People diagnosed with ADHD may have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of the disorder and, because of it, struggle with varying degrees of impairment. ADHD typically manifests itself before the age of seven and may be diagnosed as being ADHD, inattentive type, ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type, or ADHD combined type.
Children and adults with ADHD inattentive type, primarily have difficulties with attention, focus, and concentration, but have less difficulties related to impulsivity and hyperactivity. These people, sometimes referred to as having ADD (note the omission of the “H” for the absence of hyperactivity in this subtype), often struggle with difficulties in learning because their skills for focusing, attending, concentrating, and remembering are relatively poor compared to their peers.
Children and adults with ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type, on the other hand, have relatively normal abilities for attending and concentrating, but struggle with difficulties related to impulsiveness and hyperactivity. For school-age children with this subtype of ADHD, learning is relatively intact and only minimally impacted by the disorder. Problems are more likely to occur in social settings, in the classroom, at work (e.g., because of the difficulties in remaining quiet and on-task), and in the home (because of difficulties in following directions and controlling impulses).
Children and adults with ADHD, combined type exhibit difficulties in all of the areas noted above. They present with difficulties in attention and concentration as well as difficulties with hyperactivity and impulsivity.
ADHD differs from depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other emotional and psychiatric disorders because the underlying source of the difficulties occurring in ADHD are connected to a degree of dysfunction of the frontal lobe of the brain and involve mostly neurological difficulties. Unlike mood disorders that are typically linked to abnormalities of the emotional centers of the brain (i.e., the limbic system and other areas), ADHD symptoms arise from impairments in the brain regions responsible for planning and controlling purposeful actions and behavior. Mood issues do occur in ADHD, as do problems in social functioning, but these problems are largely secondary in nature and more linked to underlying problems in behavioral control and difficulty managing emotional reactions.
Unfortunately, individuals with ADHD (because of their difficulties with learning and behavioral control) are at a higher risk than typical children for developing a host of other problems. Children with ADHD, for example, are at a higher risk for developing anxiety and poor self-esteem. As they become aware of the differences between themselves and their more self-controlled peers, feelings of frustration often develop. As this develops, perseverance and investment in the learning process may diminish and the child may give up more easily. At the same time, the child may struggle with making solid social connections and may be inordinately corrected by their teachers. The cumulative effect of these problematic interactions tend to mount over time and often lead to school underachievement as well as other negative outcomes when the difficulties are not adequately addressed. Fortunately, there are a variety of interventions and medications that are very effective at helping people with ADHD function better in the classroom, at home, and at work. Most people are helped with medication, behavioral therapy (which teaches adaptive skills to work around ADHD symptoms), or some combination of both.