Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common reasons children are referred for mental health services. It affects as many as one in every 20 children. Although boys are three to four times more likely than girls to experience ADHD, the disorder affects both boys and girls.


There are three main types of ADHD. One type is characterized by inattentiveness, one type is characterized by hyperactive or impulsive behavior, and the third type is combined—when children exhibit signs of both types.

Symptoms are often unnoticed until a child enters school. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must show symptoms in at least two settings, such as home and school, and the symptoms must interfere with the child’s ability to function at home or school for at least six months. Specialists have agreed that at least six symptoms from the following lists must be present for an accurate diagnosis, and symptoms must begin by age 7.

Signs of inattentive behavior:

  • Has difficulty following instructions
  • Has difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Loses things at school and at home
  • Forgets things often
  • Becomes easily distracted or has difficulty listening
  • Lacks attention to detail, makes careless mistakes or is disorganized
  • Fails to complete homework or tasks

Signs of hyperactive behavior:

  •     Is fidgety
  •     Leaves seat when shouldn’t
  •     Runs or climbs inappropriately
  •     Talks excessively
  •     Difficulty playing quietly
  •     Always on the go
  •     Blurts out answers
  •     Has trouble waiting turn
  •     Interrupts

The presence of some symptoms, however, does not confirm a diagnosis of ADHD. Just because a child has a lot of energy or difficulty paying attention in school does not mean the child has ADHD. An accurate diagnosis relies on the presence of a range of symptoms and difficulties that prevent the child from performing at an appropriate level for his or her age and intelligence level. Teachers often first observe these issues, and their input should be considered seriously.


ADHD is nobody’s fault. Researchers believe that biology and genes play a large role in the development of ADHD. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD have relatives with the same disorder. Brain scans reveal that the brains of children with ADHD differ from those of children without the disorder. Children with ADHD are thought to have problems with the part of the brain that controls the organization and direction of thought and behavior.


Children with symptoms of ADHD should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating children, unless your primary care doctor has experience in treating this disorder. The diagnostic evaluation should include behavioral observation in the classroom and at home. A comprehensive treatment plan should be developed with the family, and, whenever possible, the child should be involved in making treatment decisions. Educational testing should be performed when learning disabilities are present.

Treatment for ADHD is effective for most children. Early identification, diagnosis and treatment help children reach their full potential. The most effective treatments for ADHD include a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and parental support and education. Nine out of 10 children respond to medication, and 50 percent of children who do not respond to an initial medication will respond to a second. When ADHD co-occurs with another disorder, such as depression or anxiety, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is shown to be particularly effective. Although the value of medication has been well-documented, parents should feel free to discuss any concerns about medication use with their child’s doctor.

If your child or a child you know is diagnosed with ADHD, be patient. Even with treatment, symptoms may take time to improve. Instill a sense of competence in the child or adolescent. Promote his or her strengths, talents and feelings of self-worth. Remember that the side effects of untreated ADHD (such as failure, frustration, discouragement, social isolation, low self-esteem and depression) may cause more problems than the disorder itself.


MHA Texas brochure: Children Who Can’t Pay Attention

NIMH brochure:  Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

SAMHSA brochure: Helping Children and Youth with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:  Systems of Care


ADD and Adults

In the 1970’s, experts began using the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” to describe the condition. While the condition is most often associated with children, there has been a more recent understanding the Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD, ADHD) continue into adulthood for many individuals. Symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity and over activity are now known to continue into adulthood for a significant percentage of children with ADD. Unfortunately, relatively few adults are diagnosed or treated for ADD.


The exact cause or causes of ADD are not conclusively known. Scientific evidence suggests that in many cases the disorder is genetically transmitted and is caused by an imbalance or deficiency in certain chemicals that regulate the efficiency with which the brain controls behavior. A 1990 study at the National Institute of Mental Health correlated ADD with a series of metabolic abnormalities in the brain, providing further evidence that ADD is a neurobiological disorder.

While heredity is often indicated, problems in prenatal development, birth complications, or later neurological damage can contribute to ADD.


A multi-factored evaluation of an individual is important in the diagnosis of ADD. Diagnostic assessment of adults should be made by a clinician or a team of clinicians with expertise in the area of attentional dysfunction and related conditions.

The assessment is designed to look for the presence of lifelong patterns of behavior that indicate underlying attention and impulse problems. An evaluation should make use of information from a variety of sources. These may include:

  • A thorough medical and family history.
  • A physical examination.
  • Interviews or rating scales completed by others who can comment on the person’s behavior, such as a parent, friend or spouse.
  • Observation of the individual.
  • Psychological tests which measure cognitive abilities, social and emotional adjustment, as well as screen for learning disabilities.
  • Various symptoms of ADD may reflect developmental differences in some individuals while in others,they may indicate that other conditions co-exist with ADD, including specific learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, affective disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, borderline personality disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.


  • Distractibility
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Procrastination
  • Chronic lateness
  • Chronic boredom
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swing
  • Employment problems
  • Restlessness
  • Substance abuse or addictions
  • Relationship problems


The methods of treatment supported by professionals may include a combination of education for the adult and his or her family and close friends, educational/employment accommodations, medication, and counseling.

Appropriate treatment is determined according to the severity of an individual’s disorder and the type and number of associated problems. Many people have benefited from a treatment plan that includes medication. Used in conjunction with education and counseling, it can provide a base from which adults can build new successes. The purpose of medication is to help the adult to help him or herself. It provides the biological support needed for self-control. As such, the individual is not “controlled” by medication; the efforts to succeed are his or her own.


Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders (CHADD)
8181 Professional Place
Suite 150
Landover, MD 20785
Phone Number: (301) 306-7070
Toll-Free Number: (800) 233-4050