ADD & ADHD 101: Everything You Need to Know About Attention-Deficit Disorder & Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children
Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Powell, MS, Medical Sciences
Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders that can cause serious disruptions in daily life. Both disorders result in ongoing inattention and/or impulsivity and are, therefore, similar conditions. However, unlike ADD, ADHD is also marked by a hyperactivity component.
In the cases of both disorders, symptoms typically begin in early childhood. It is estimated that millions of children are affected by some form of ADD or ADHD, both of which could keep them from learning effectively in school, especially if the disorders go undiagnosed. Although the onset of ADD/ADHD occurs early in life, symptoms often continue into adulthood and can go unrecognized until then.
Moreover, individuals with ADD/ADHD can have trouble controlling their behavior and paying attention, which can often affect relationships, lead to problems at school or work, and sometimes cause low self-esteem or other anxiety-related complications.
Symptoms Associated With ADD & ADHD
There are a few key symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Although most children, even those who do not have ADD/ADHD, experience these symptoms at some point, those with either disorder are likely to experience them with much more severity and for a much longer period of time. With this in mind, a child must exhibit symptoms for six months or more to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent boredom
- Trouble completing school work or other tasks on time
- Forgetfulness or recurrent loss of items
- Trouble listening
- Frequent daydreaming
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Trouble resisting temptation
- Interruption of others when speaking
- Difficulty controlling emotions
- Hyperactivity (only present with ADHD)
- Difficulty sitting still
- Constant talking
Moreover, ADD/ADHD is categorized into three types based on the symptoms with the strongest presence in an individual. The three types of ADD/ADHD are:
- Predominantly inattentive presentation
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
- Combined presentation
Causes & Risk Factors
The exact cause of ADD/ADHD remains unclear. However, research supports that genetics play an important role. An additional confluence of risk factors and possible causes also include:
- Brain injury
- Exposure to environmental toxicants (e.g. lead)
- Maternal drug, alcohol, and/or tobacco use during pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
ADD/ADHD must be diagnosed by a licensed clinician, such as a pediatrician psychiatrist, or psychologist, with appropriate expertise. Additionally, the diagnosis requires several steps. Unlike most other medical conditions that can be diagnosed in a single doctor’s visit, the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD requires several visits, during which information about the child’s symptoms, environment, and behavior at home and school will be collected. The doctor will then interact with the child and the family to determine if the family dynamics are related to the child’s symptoms. Typically, children are diagnosed between three and six years of age.
Managing ADD & ADHD
Treatment for ADD/ADHD typically involves stimulant medications that are marketed under a variety of brand names. These medications typically work well and improve the individual’s ability to focus as well as mitigate any other symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity. However, there are some drawbacks to stimulant medications, including an increased risk of heart and psychiatric problems. There is also a risk of dependence. Additionally, a withdrawal period may occur when the medication wears off, resulting in symptoms such as headaches, weight loss, and difficulty sleeping. Because of this, doctors will typically prescribe the lowest dose of medication possible.
Other non-stimulant medications are also an option and may be effective for treating ADD/ADHD. However, these medications may take longer to produce the desired effects. Psychotherapy and psychosocial interventions have also been shown to help with ADD/ADHD.
Even if the condition continues into adulthood, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms effectively. If you believe that you or your child is exhibiting some of the common symptoms of ADD/ADHD for a prolonged period of time, talk to your healthcare provider to pursue a diagnosis.
- “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children” via Mayo Clinic
- “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” via National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- “Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” via Mayo Clinic