Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder
What is ADHD?
Common symptoms, types & treatment
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, beginning in early childhood. It involves having trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviour or being overly active. While it looks different in every person, it can be a chronic and debilitating disorder that can negatively impact many areas of life including, social, work, academic, and relational aspects as well as daily home functioning. All of this can lead to poor mental health.
ADHD affects your brain’s executive functioning and alters electrical patterns in the brain. This shows there is a biological reason for individuals’ change in ability to self-regulate and control thoughts, words, actions, and emotions.
ADHD is not:
- Learned behaviour.
- A discipline problem
- A spoiled child
- A temper tantrum
- A ‘choice’
- The easy (lazy) way out
It’s a medical condition – structural, functional, and neurochemical differences.
How common is ADHD?
ADHD is the most common mental disorder in children and adolescents with Australian prevalence rates of 7.4% of all children and adolescents or one in every 20 Australians. While it is more common in children, it can persist into adulthood with a ratio of 3-5:1 in children and adolescents, and 1.6:1 in adults. Additionally, ADHD is more common in boys (12.9% of boys, 5.6% of girls; CDC, 2019)
Gender differences in presentation
Symptoms tend to look different between boys and girls. Boys are significantly more impaired in primary symptoms (hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention) and externalising problems (e.g. disruptive behaviour, aggression). Girls with ADHD, on the other hand, are two times more likely to have internalising problems (comorbid depression and anxiety may be greater in girls). Differences in ADHD presentation between boys and girls may explain the lower prevalence rates of ADHD in females as the inattentive subtype is harder to diagnose.
What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?
- A tendency to not follow through with instructions and start but not finish tasks.
- e.g., starts chores or homework but quickly loses focus and is easily side-tracked.
- Putting off tasks or play activities that need a sustained effort.
- Being easily distracted by external stimuli or daydreaming
- Having trouble remembering things
- Having difficulty organising tasks, activities, belongings, or time
- Constantly losing things
- e.g., losing things needed for tasks such as pencils and books
- Difficulty following instructions.
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities.
- Struggling to focus and concentrate on tasks they find boring or tedious.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Mind seems elsewhere.
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- e.g., leaving place in the classroom
- Runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate.
- Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on-the-go and acting as if “driven by a motor”.
- e.g., is unable to be or is uncomfortable being still for an extended time, such as in restaurants.
- Often talks excessively.
- Blurts out answers before a question has been completed.
- e.g., completes people’s sentences; cannot wait for a turn in conversation)
- Has difficulty waiting their turn.
- (e.g., while waiting in line)
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others.
- e.g., butts into conversations, games or activities; may start using other people’s things without asking or receiving permission.
What are the symptoms of ADHD in adults?
ADHD symptoms in adults and teenagers are harder to define and can be more subtle. While hyperactivity tends to decrease, inattentiveness remains as the stressors of adult life take hold. More common symptoms in adults include:
- Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
- Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- Poor organisational skills e.g., disorganised work; has poor time management; fails to meet deadlines
- Inability to focus or prioritise. e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading.
- Continually losing or misplacing things
- Restlessness and edginess
- Difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn.
- Blurting out responses and often interrupting others e.g. may intrude into or take over what others are doing
- Mood swings, irritability, and a quick temper
- Inability to deal with stress.
- Extreme impatience
- Taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others – for example, driving dangerously
Seeking support for ADHD
How is ADHD diagnosed?
The process of being diagnosed with ADHD takes several steps. ADHD shares symptoms with other problems such as depression, sleep problems and learning disabilities, so it is crucial assessment is done carefully. Diagnosing ADHD usually includes a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms (such as the DSM-5) and taking a history of the child from parents, teachers, and sometimes, the child.
A diagnosis will be based on the presence of persistent symptoms, occurring over a period and are noticeable over the past six months. While ADHD can be diagnosed at any age, the symptoms must be present before the individual was 12 years old and must have caused difficulties in two or more settings (e.g., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; or in other activities).
Seeking support for your child
Caring for a child with ADHD can be very challenging. The chaotic and fearless behaviour of children with ADHD can make normal tasks stressful and tiring, but know, you are not alone. It is also important to remember a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour at times.
- The first step in seeking support for your child, if you think they have ADHD, is seeing your GP. Early intervention is crucial, so this is a great step. Your GP can refer you to a paediatrician or child psychologist, so you are able to get an assessment.
Seeking support for yourself
If you think you may have undiagnosed ADHD and need support, going to see your GP is the first step. From here, they can refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist who can evaluate and make an official diagnosis. If your symptoms are hindering your life and have a negative impact on your mental health, it is so valuable to speak with someone who can give you the tools to cope with and manage your symptoms.
Making an Appointment with Axis Clinic
To make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists, counsellors or mental health social workers please contact our helpful reception team on 07 3254 0333 so that we can support you further.
5 self-care tips for adults with ADHD
Develop structure and neat habits.
Creating space and organising your room or office can help clear your mind and help you focus on the tasks at hand (instead of being distracted by the books and pencils or clothes scattered everywhere).
Use a calendar app or daily planner.
The effective use of a calendar or daily planner can help you remember tasks and stay on top of things. When there are so many things on your mind, having it visually there for you to see can be a great reminder and motivator to get it done. With electronic calendars, you can also set up automatic reminders so scheduled events like appointments or deadlines never slip your mind.
- Dedicate time to fill in a monthly or weekly planner.
- Use colours and lists – highlight things that are a priority and trust me, ticking goals off your list is more fun than it sounds.
- Do it now!
Manage your time.
Wearing a watch or using timers is a great place to start when trying to manage time. Setting allocated times to do tasks and using a timer to alert you when the time is up can help you stay focussed. Ensuring you have set break times as well is crucial, as your brain needs rest and fuelling!
- Decide what to do first and take one thing at a time.
- Plan to be early… if they said to be here at 9:30 am pretend they said 9 am
- Give yourself ample time.
Get plenty of sleep and eat right.
Sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating can both exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Simple changes go a long way in these areas.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day
- Have a regular bedtime and make sure it’s a calm routine
- Include healthy proteins in your diet and avoid too much sugar
Exercise and spend time outdoors.
Let off some steam! Exercise is an effective and proven method of improving hyperactivity and inattention from ADHD. Exercise can relieve stress, boost your mood, and relax your thought. It helps to release built-up energy and tension that can disrupt relationships and feelings of stability.
5 self-care tips for parents of children with ADHD
Plan the day.
Planning the day, such as on a calendar, so your child knows what to expect is so important. Set routines can help with how a child with ADHD copes with everyday life, enabling them to feel organised and prepared. For example, if your child has to get ready for school, break it down into structured steps, so they know exactly what they need to do, removing any uncertainty.
Set clear boundaries and be positive.
Make sure everyone knows what behaviour is expected and reinforce positive behaviour with immediate and specific praise or rewards. Be clear, using enforceable consequences, such as taking away a privilege. If boundaries are disobeyed, it’s crucial you follow through with discussed consequences consistently.
Set up your own incentive scheme using points or sticker charts, so your child’s good behaviour can earn a privilege. Try to focus on 1 or 2 target behaviours at a time. For example, behaving well on a long car drive or going to bed without argument will earn your child a sticker and when they reach 10 stickers, they get a toy. Involve your child in it and allow them to help decide what the privileges will be. These charts need to change up regularly, so they stay exciting and enticing.
Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity during the day to help them exert their energy and improve their sleep. Walking, skipping, and playing sports are all great options to wear your pocket rocket out. Ensure they’re not doing anything too strenuous or exciting near bedtime.
Sleep problems and ADHD can be a vicious cycle. ADHD can lead to sleep problems, which in turn can make symptoms worse. Many children with ADHD will continuously get up after being put to bed and have interrupted sleep patterns. Ensuring you stick to a routine and have a calm environment (no screens an hour before bedtime) can help your child and make bedtime less of a battleground.
Children with ADHD tend to have behavioural issues at school which can negatively affect a child’s academic progress and social relationships.
Organise to speak with your child’s teachers or their school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) about how best to support them and any extra help they may need.
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