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A person with untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has difficulty maintaining attention, managing energy levels, and controlling impulses.


In the United States, around 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. In some children, ADHD characteristics begin as early as 3 years of ageTrusted Source.


Ways of treating ADHD include medication, behavioral management techniques, and other practical strategies.


Below, we explore what ADHD is, how it affects a person, and which treatments can help.


Find tips for managing ADHD during the COVID-19 pandemic.


What is ADHD?

Image credit: Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

People with ADHD have difficulty focusing on tasks and controlling their attention, which can make completing a project, for example, challenging. ADHD can limit a person’s ability to study or work, and it can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.


Some people with ADHD also find it hard to sit still. They may be quick to act on impulse and become easily distracted.


While children of any age can experience distraction and impulsiveness, these traits are more noticeable in those with ADHD.


Features

ADHD may develop in one of three ways. A doctor may find that the disorder has:


a predominantly hyperactive and impulsive presentation

a predominantly inattentive presentation

a combined presentation

People with ADHD experience hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention in varying degrees.


Inattention

Below are some behaviors related to inattention that a person might notice in someone with ADHD:


daydreaming

becoming distracted and having difficulty focusing on tasks

making “careless” mistakes

appearing to not listen while others are talking

having difficulty with time management and organization

frequently losing everyday items

avoiding tasks that need prolonged focus and thought

having difficulty following instructions


Hyperactivity and impulsivity

Some or all of the following may be apparent in someone with ADHD:


seeming constantly “on-the-go” and unable to sit still

running or climbing at inappropriate times

having difficulty taking turns in conversations and activities

fidgeting or tapping the hands or feet

talking and making noises excessively

taking unnecessary risks

In adults

Adults and children tend to experience the same symptoms of ADHD, and these can create difficulties in relationships and at work.


The effects of these features vary widely from person to person, and a person may find that their experience of ADHD changes over time.


Not everyone with ADHD is noisy and disruptive. A child may be quiet in class, for example, while facing severe challenges that they do not express.



In females

Females with ADHD may be more likelyTrusted Source to have difficulty paying attention, while males may be more likely to experience hyperactivity and impulsivity.


This may be one reason why more males than females receive diagnoses of ADHD. Hyperactivity can be easier to spot than inattention.



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Diagnosis

MostTrusted Source children with ADHD receive a diagnosis while they are in elementary school, but some may not do so until adolescence or adulthood.


No single test can identify ADHD, and the symptoms can overlap with those of other conditions. This can make it difficult to diagnose.


A doctor will conduct examinations to rule out other potential causes, such as hearing or vision problems.


Other conditions that can lead to similar behaviors include:


trouble hearing or seeing

anxiety

depression

learning disabilities

sleep disorders

A doctor will often ask questions to learn more about the person’s behavioral patterns. They may speak with the individual, members of their family, and any other caregivers, such as teachers.


Many children experience hyperactivity and inattention. For a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms must meet specific criteria, including having a significant impact on daily life and schoolwork.


Getting a correct diagnosis of ADHD can take time. Find out why.


Treatments

A range of approaches can help a person manage ADHD. A doctor should work with the individual to develop a treatment plan that suits them best.


The plan may include:


Behavioral therapy and counseling

A therapist or counselor can help a person develop or enhance a wide range of skills, such as:


building and maintaining relationships

establishing and following rules

planning and completing tasks

developing and following a schedule

monitoring ADHD symptoms

Therapists can also help parents develop constructive ways to respond to the behaviors that can result from ADHD.


A person with ADHD may specifically benefit from:


stress management

classroom behavior management techniques

cognitive behavioral therapy

family therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly called CBT, aims to help a person find new ways to approach and react to everyday situations.


Tips for supporting children

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can help children navigate the challenges of ADHD.


Schools often have educational plans for children with ADHD, including specific teaching approaches, classroom accommodations, and school-based counseling.


At home and at school, the following strategies can help:


having a written schedule of all tasks

breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones

keeping school items and toys organized

establishing clear and consistent rules

rewarding or praising the child when they accomplish tasks

using a planner that teachers and caregivers check regularly

Also, encourage children to engage in activities that they enjoy and do well in to boost their self-esteem. Sports and other forms of exercise can provide outlets for high energy levels and enhance the child’s overall well-being.


Tips for adults

Reminder notes and alarms, calendars, and planners can help adults with ADHD manage their schedules.


It is also a good idea to keep keys and other important everyday items in specific spots.


Can dietary choices make a difference? Find out here.


Medications

Medications, such as stimulants, can help improve attention and focus. Here are some examples:


amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)

lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)

methylphenidate (Ritalin)

dexamphetamine (Dexedrine)

However, they can have adverse effects, such as:


abdominal pain

headaches

raised blood pressure and heart rate

increased anxiety and irritability

sleep problems

reduced appetite

personality changes

To avoid side effects, let the doctor know about any ongoing medications and health issues.


If stimulants are ineffective or unsuitable, a doctor may prescribe nonstimulant medications, such as:


guanfacine (Intuniv)

atomoxetine (Strattera)

clonidine (Catapres)

For some people, a doctor may prescribe one of the above alongside a stimulant.

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