What is ADHD?
ADHD awareness is growing around the world. However, there is still a paucity of knowledge and presence of misconceptions about what ADHD is and what it isn’t. October 2021 is the ADHD awareness month, and it is important to take a step back and examine what we know about ADHD and also gain new information and have a better understanding of ADHD.
ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder, is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children and it also affects many adults. It is estimated that about 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. It is often diagnosed in children, especially school-aged children, because of disruption in school activities or problems with schoolwork.
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. However, current research has revealed that genetics play a large role. Most children with ADHD have a parent or a relative with it. In addition to genetic factors, other factors that may contribute to the development of ADHD include premature birth, consumption of alcohol or smoking during pregnancy, low birth weight and brain injury.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
Although it is common in children to have high levels of activity, little or no attention span and difficulty staying still in a place for a long period of time, children with ADHD often have these in greater proportions and causes difficulty in school or at home.
People with ADHD may have one or a combination of the following symptoms:
– Inattention: difficulty paying attention.
– Hyperactivity: having too much energy or excess movement that is not fitting to the situation.
– Impulsivity: Hasty actions without thinking or difficulty with self-control.
Some people with ADHD mainly have symptoms of inattention, and this form is known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
How is ADHD diagnosed?
There is no laboratory test for ADHD. Diagnosis involves gathering information from parents, teachers, filling out checklists and medical evaluations to rule out other problems. Other conditions that can occur alongside ADHD include anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A diagnosis is made when the symptoms have occurred for over six months. ADHD is diagnosed as one of three types: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type or combined type.
Inattentive type: Six (or five in persons above 17 years) of these occur frequently:
– Is easily distracted.
– Has problems staying focused on tasks or activities, such as during lectures, conversations or long reading.
– Doesn’t pay close attention to details or make careless mistakes in school or job tasks.
– Does not follow through on instructions and doesn’t complete schoolwork, chores or job duties (may start tasks but quickly lose focus).
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– Has problems organising tasks and work (for instance, does not manage time well; has messy, disorganised work; misses deadlines).
– Does not seem to listen when spoken to (i.e., seems to be elsewhere).
– Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as preparing reports and completing forms.
– Often loses things needed for tasks or daily activities, such as books, keys, wallet, cell phone and eyeglasses.
Hyperactive/impulsive type: six (or five in people over 17 years) of the following symptoms occur frequently:
– Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in the seat.
– Not able to stay seated (in the classroom, workplace).
– Has difficulty waiting his or her turn, such as while waiting in line.
– Blurts out an answer before a question has been finished (for instance, may finish people’s sentences, can’t wait to speak in conversations).
– Interrupts or intrudes on others (for instance, cuts into conversations, games or activities, or starts using other people’s things without permission). Adults may take over what others are doing.
– Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly.
– Always “on the go,” as if driven by a motor.
– Talks too much.
What are the treatment options for ADHD?
Treatment for ADHD includes medication, therapy and other behavioural treatments, or a combination of methods. In children aged 4 to 5 years, behavioural therapy is the recommended first line before medication is tried. Treatment plans would involve close monitoring, follow up and making changes where needed. In adults with ADHD, they are treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination. Behaviour management strategies, such as ways to minimise distractions and increase structure and organisation, and involving immediate family members, can also be helpful.
Living with ADHD
Therapy and medication are the most effective treatments for ADHD. In addition, staying healthy makes it easier to deal with ADHD. Other helpful behaviours that may help include:
– Developing healthy eating habits such as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and choosing lean protein sources.
– Exercise: Lots of physical activity during the day helps them to wear themselves out and improve the quality of sleep.
– Early intervention especially when the child is looking frustrated, overstimulated and about to lose self-control.
– Limiting the amount of daily screen time from TVs, computers, phones, and other electronics.
– Support groups and meaningful relationships, especially with people that understand the challenges with ADHD.