Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


     Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the most diagnosed behavioral condition in children and is on the increase. However, a significant number of adults are also diagnosed with it annually. ADHD is a problem of not being able to focus (inattentiveness), being overactive (hyperactivity), not being able to control behavior (impulsivity), or a combination of these beyond the normal age-ability of the individual.

For Kids:

Parents and teachers can help kids with ADHD stay organized and follow directions with tools such as:

  • Keeping a routine and a schedule. Keep the same times every day, from wake-up to bedtime. Include times for homework, outdoor play, and indoor activities. Keep the plan on the refrigerator or bulletin board in the kitchen. Write changes on the bulletin board as far in advance as possible.
  • Organizing everyday items. Have a place for everything, (such as clothing, backpacks, and toys), and keep everything in its place.
  • Using homework and notebook organizers. Use organizers for school material and supplies — stress to your child the importance of writing down assignments and bringing home the necessary books.
  • Being clear and consistent. Children with ADHD need consistent rules they can understand and follow.
  • Giving praise or rewards when following rules. Children with ADHD often receive and expect criticism. Look for good behavior and praise it.
For Adults

A professional counselor or therapist can help an adult with ADHD learn how to organize his or her life with tools such as:

  • Keeping routines
  • Making lists for different tasks and activities
  • Using a calendar for scheduling events
  • Using reminder notes
  • Assigning a special place for keys, bills, and paperwork
  • Breaking down large tasks into more manageable, smaller steps so that completing each part of the job provides a sense of accomplishment.

Define "Inattention," "Hyperactivity," and "Impulsivity."

Inattentive Symptoms:
  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork at work, or during other activities
  • Has difficulty keeping focus during tasks or play, including conversations, lectures, or lengthy reading
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores and tasks but quickly lose focus and get easily sidetracked
  • Has problems organizing tasks and activities such as what to do in sequence, keeping materials and belongings in order, having messy work and poor time management, and failing to meet deadlines
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort such as schoolwork or homework, or for teens and older adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers
  • Lose things necessary for tasks or activities, such as school supplies, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, and cell phones
  • Is easily distracted by unrelated thoughts or stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities such as chores, errands, returning calls, and keeping appointments

What are Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity?

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity Symptoms
  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Leave their seats in situations when staying seated is expected, such as in the classroom or the office
  • Run or dash around or climb in cases where it is inappropriate or, in teens and adults, often feel restless
  • Be unable to play or engage in hobbies quietly
  • Be always in motion or “on the go,” or act as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talk nonstop
  • Blurt out an answer before a question has been completed, finish other people’s sentences, or speak without waiting for a turn in a conversation
  • Have trouble waiting for his or her turn
  • Interrupt or intrude on others, for example in conversations, games, or activities

Therapy Interventions

     Several specific psychosocial interventions help patients and their families manage symptoms and improve everyday functioning.


     Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help a person change his or her behavior.  

  • During therapy, practical assistance in organizing tasks or completing schoolwork helps the individual learn new ways of behaving or working through emotionally difficult events.
  • Behavioral therapy also teaches a person how to monitor his or her behavior and give oneself praise or rewards for acting in a desired way, such as controlling anger or thinking before acting.
  • Parents, teachers, and family members give positive or negative feedback for certain behaviors and help establish clear rules, chore lists, and other structured routines to help a person control his or her behavior.
  • Therapists teach children social skills, such as how to wait their turn, share toys, ask for help, or respond to teasing. Learning to read facial expressions and the tone of voice in others, and how to respond appropriately can also be part of social skills training.


     Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches a person mindfulness techniques or meditation. A person learns how to be aware and accepting of one’s thoughts and feelings to improve focus and concentration. The therapist encourages the person with ADHD to adjust to the life changes that come with treatment, such as thinking before acting or resisting the urge to take unnecessary risks.


     Family and marital therapy help family members and spouses find better ways to handle disruptive behaviors, to encourage behavior changes, and improve interactions with the individual who has ADHD.

     While there is no cure for ADHD, currently available treatments can help reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, education or training, or a combination of treatments.



     For many people, ADHD medications reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. The drug also may improve physical coordination. Sometimes several different medications or dosages must be tried before finding the right one that works.


Stimulants. The most common type of medication used for treating ADHD is a stimulant used to increase the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, which play essential roles in thinking and attention.


     Under medical supervision, stimulant medications are considered safe. However, there are risks and side effects, especially when misused or taken over the prescribed dose. For example, stimulants can raise blood pressure and heart rate and increase anxiety. Therefore, a person with other health problems, including high blood pressure, seizures, heart disease, glaucoma, liver or kidney disease, or an anxiety disorder, should tell their doctor before taking a stimulant.


     Talk with a doctor if you see any of these or other side effects while taking stimulants:

  • decreased appetite
  • sleep problems
  • tics (sudden, repetitive movements or sounds)
  • personality changes
  • increased anxiety and irritability
  • stomachaches
  • headaches


     Non-stimulants. Non-stimulants medications used in the treatment of ADHD take longer to start working than stimulants, but can also improve focus, attention, and impulsivity. Antidepressants may be used alone or in combination with a stimulant in the treatment of ADHD, for example.

     Parenting skills training (behavioral parent management training) teaches parents the skills they need to encourage and reward positive behaviors in their children. It helps parents learn how to use a system of rewards and consequences to change a child’s behavior. Parents give immediate and positive feedback for actions they want to encourage and ignore or redirect behaviors that they want to discourage. They may also learn to structure situations in ways that support desired behavior.


     Specific behavioral classroom management interventions are useful for managing youths’ symptoms and improving their functioning at school and with peers. These research-informed strategies typically include teacher-implemented reward programs that often utilize point systems and communication with parents via Daily Report Cards.


     Many schools offer special education services to children with ADHD who qualify. Educational specialists help the child, parents, and teachers make changes to classroom and homework assignments to help the child succeed. Public schools are required to offer these services for qualified children, which may be free for families living within the school district. Learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), visit the U.S. Department of Education’s IDEA website.


     Stress management techniques can benefit parents of children with ADHD by increasing their ability to deal with frustration so that they can respond calmly to their child’s behavior.


     Support groups can help parents and families connect with others who have similar problems and concerns. Where available, support groups meet regularly to share frustrations and successes, to exchange information about recommended specialists and strategies, and to talk with experts.


      The National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD®) supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has information and many resources. You can reach this center online or by phone at 1-866-200-8098.

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