What is ADHD?
Let's take a look into exactly what Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is.
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects about one in 20 Australians - that equates to about 1 million people - but is often misunderstood, under-diagnosed, or mischaracterised.

To help people understand ADHD, as well as erase some of the stigma and incorrect notions about the disorder, we're going to take an in-depth look into ADHD and explain the important facts that you need to know about it. Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder that begins in childhood and results in poor concentration and impulse control, which can affect learning, social interactions, and family relationships. This in turn can have an impact on an individual's day-to-day life.

The disorder is typically characterised by patterns of inattentive, impulsive and sometimes hyperactive behaviour, and difficulties in self-regulating their emotions, thoughts, words, and actions.

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive - This type means a person is easily distractible or inattentive but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive.

  • Hyperactive-impulsive - This type means a person has symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity.

  • Combined - This type means a person has a mixture of symptoms including hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity.

It is estimated that one in 20 children in Australia has ADHD, with the disorder more common in boys than girls. While the disorder begins in childhood, the symptoms generally improve as children get older. With good support at school and home, and, in some situations, medication treatment, children with ADHD can live a successful life.

The condition was previously known as 'Attention Deficit Disorder' (ADD), but this term is outdated as it only described the inattentive form of the disorder. ADHD is now considered to be the correct name of the disorder.

What causes ADHD?

While there has been a lot of research and studies into ADHD, the simple answer is that no one knows what causes the disorder. It is thought that a number of factors may contribute to the development of the disorder:

  • Neurophysiology - Differences in brain anatomy, electrical activity and metabolism.

  • Genetics: Research has found evidence that ADHD often runs in families, with a number of genes involved rather than a single gene.

  • Drugs: Maternal smoking, alcohol and substance misuse during pregnancy has been linked to ADHD.

  • Certain toxins: Some studies have shown that toxins such as lead can affect brain development and behaviour in young children.

  • Lack of early attachment: If a child did not bond with a parent or caregiver as a baby, or has traumatic experiences related to the attachment, they can develop inattention and hyperactivity.

Signs and symptoms

There are two groups of symptoms in ADHD: Inattentive symptoms and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.

Inattentive symptoms include:

  • Not paying attention to details, or making careless mistakes in schoolwork

  • Difficulty remaining focused in class, conversations or reading

  • Avoiding tasks that take continuous mental effort

  • Not following through on instructions

  • A tendency to start but not finish tasks

  • Difficulty in organising tasks, activities, belongings or time

  • Being easily distracted or daydreaming

  • Losing things

  • Not seeming to listen when spoken to

  • Being forgetful with everyday tasks, such as chores and appointments.

Hyperactive-impulsive symptoms include:

  • Fidgeting and squirming

  • Running or climbing in situations where it is inappropriate, or leaving their seat in class

  • Talking non-stop

  • Interrupting conversations, games or activities or using people’s things without permission

  • Blurting out an answer before a question has been finished

  • Being constantly in motion, as if 'driven by an engine'

  • Struggling to play or do tasks quietly.

How is ADHD diagnosed and treated?

Only qualified health specialists (such as a paediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist) can make an ADHD diagnosis after a detailed assessment. To see one of these specialists, a GP must be seen initially to obtain a referral.

For children, a team of specialists must collect a range of detail information about them pertaining to their development, health and other factors, and a diagnosis may be made if there are six or more symptoms for at least six months to a degree that it's interfering with their everyday life.

For an ADHD diagnosis in adults, specialists need to establish that symptoms began in childhood, and a detailed assessment pertaining to their development, health and other factors will be undertaken.

There are a number of treatment options available for ADHD, depending on the specific needs of the person and family. These include:

  • Medication - A number of short-term stimulant medications have been found to be effective as a way to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, and improve the ability to focus, work, and learn.

  • Psychotherapy - Psychological treatments such as behavioural therapy may help a child develop skills and strategies for learning and to control their behaviour.

    • For adults, cognitive-behavioural therapy is a helpful approach in managing problems associated with ADHD, such as time-management and problem-solving.

  • Counselling - Caring for a child with ADHD can be challenging, and counselling can help a child develop and learn while reducing stress on family members.

Related reading:

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Tara Winstead at Pexels

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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