Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, most commonly referred to as ADHD, is a diagnosed mental disorder that is thought to affect from 5-10% of young people .
ADHD is a result of differences in brain development and is often hereditary. Although it is commonly diagnosed in young people, it does continue into adulthood – this is not a disorder you can grow out of.
There are a many symptoms of the disorder and different variants to consider. Generally, ADHD impacts executive functions that allow a person to focus and organize .
Limitations on executive functions make everyday school and work tasks tough. The symptoms of ADHD can continue into adulthood, where sufferers find it hard to hold down a job or maintain relationships and disproportionately have issues with addiction or self esteem .
Being able to manage the symptoms of ADHD with the help of an early diagnosis is the best way to mitigate these risks.
Whether you, your child or your partner has from ADHD, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms and different types of ADHD. With a deeper understanding of ADHD, you will be better placed to overcome the challenges it presents.
One of the first things to address before going into detail on the symptoms of ADHD is the difference between ADD and ADHD, which is a common source of confusion.
Difference between ADD and ADHD
ADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably. While this is not entirely incorrect, it does not fully reflect the most recent research into the disorder.
Originally, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), was used to describe patients who did not demonstrate symptoms of hyperactivity or fidgeting associated with ADHD.
However, after more research and experience with diagnosing this disorder, the decision was made to label all attention deficit disorders as ADHD. What was ADD is now a subclass of the broader ADHD diagnosis .
There are three agreed upon types of ADHD and as many as seven variants that are still being debated and are under study.
If you believe that you or a family member has ADHD, then one of the first steps your clinician will take is to record the symptoms and consider which of the three agreed upon categories you may fall into.
Let’s take a look at these three types of ADHD, before going into detail on the symptoms that help doctors to decide which category of ADHD a patient falls into.
Understanding the different types of ADHD
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are three types of ADHD that can be diagnosed . First we will look at each of these main three types, before also looking at recent developments which have expanded the scope of ADHD to as many as seven types.
- Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD
Those diagnosed with hyperactive ADHD are constantly on the go and often can’t control the impulse to move or fidget, even when it is socially unacceptable to do so.
These symptoms often cause the person with ADHD to talk out of turn in inappropriate ways due to their lack of self control. Hyperactive ADHD is one of the more obvious manifestations of the disorder due to the attention these symptoms draw.
The stereotypical sufferer of this type of ADHD is the troubled boy who can’t sit still. Because this is one of the most visible manifestations it is also more commonly diagnosed .
- Primarily Inattentive Type ADHD
Inattentive ADHD mostly affects the ability of the sufferer to sustain attention. Children and adults diagnosed with this type of ADHD have trouble following detailed instructions and organizing things.
Forgetfulness is common in this type of ADHD and sufferers can appear ‘scatterbrained’, as they are easily distracted. Previously, this was the variant of the disorder known as ADD.
Children with this type of ADHD often slip under the radar and do not get a proper diagnosis. Unfortunately, they are often labelled as ‘lazy’ instead of getting the help they need. Many who have struggled with this type of ADHD for years do not get properly diagnosed until adulthood .
- Combined Type ADHD
Combined ADHD is diagnosed in patients who exhibit symptoms from all three major categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Each type of ADHD is also assigned a level of severity when diagnosed. The clinician who made the observations will classify the condition severe, moderate or mild .
Recent research by Dr. Amen who is a psychiatrist and brain imaging specialist has indicated that there may be seven types of ADHD . His findings are informed by his research and experience running diagnostic brain scans on sufferers of the disorder.
These new types of ADHD have not been officially accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and are not commonly used by medical professionals, but research is ongoing and it is worth being aware of them.
- Classic ADD: Inattentive, easily distracted, hyperactive, impulsive and disorganized.
- Inattentive ADD: Poor attention span, easily distracted, often disorganized, daydreams and procrastinates. No signs of hyperactivity.
- Over-Focused ADD: Symptoms of classic ADD along with trouble shifting tasks and a tendency to get ‘stuck’ in negative patterns.
- Temporal Lobe ADD: Symptoms of classic ADD along with learning and memory problems. Negative behaviours such as anger, aggression and paranoia.
- Limbic ADD: Symptoms of classic ADD along with moddines, low energy and ‘sadness’. Low self esteem and feelings of guilt are also features of this type.
- Ring of Fire ADD (“ADD plus”): Sufferers are highly sensitive to light, touch and noise. Often includes fast speech, anxiety and unpredictable behaviour.
- Anxious ADD: Symptoms of classic ADD along with physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Now that you have an overview of the main types of ADHD, let’s go into some more detail of the symptoms associated with ADHD.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The first step towards identifying if a person has ADHD and eventually figuring out which type they suffer from is observing and recording symptoms.
Using the classic three types of ADHD, behaviours are broken into three categories: inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive. After a number of interviews and observations, a trained psychiatrist is then able to make a diagnosis.
The following is a rundown of typical symptoms from each category.
- Poor attention to detail, leading to careless mistakes at school or work.
- Difficulty maintaining attention (during work or play activities).
- Absent mindedness or inattentive during conversation.
- Becomes sidetracked leading to incomplete tasks.
- Problems with personal organization and meeting deadlines.
- A reluctance to engage in tasks that take sustained concentration and effort.
- Often loses tools or other objects needed to complete a task.
- Easily distracted by unrelated objects or thoughts.
- Forgets to complete simple everyday tasks like chores or errands.
- Fidgets, ‘squirms’, or in general can’t sit still.
- Standing up or moving around when sitting is expected.
- Runs or climbs in inappropriate situations.
- Unable to play quietly.
- Restless and constantly ‘on the go’.
- Being disruptive.
- Rushing through activities, with no regard to completing them correctly.
- Impulsively calling out, often with inappropriate statements.
- Little regard for future consequences.
- Poor tolerance for boredom and quickly losing interest in an activity even if initially excited.
- Carelessness with spending and engaging in risky activities.
Each category of symptoms relates to one of the three official types of ADHD and if symptoms from all categories are observed, then this is an indication of combined type ADHD.
It is important to note that some people may exhibit some of these symptoms and not actually have ADHD. While this information may help you to form an initial hypothesis, the only way to get a formal diagnosis of ADHD is to see a qualified professional.
If your child is formally diagnosed with this disorder, or you believe you may have undiagnosed ADHD as an adult, then you will face a number of challenges, but also some benefits which we will now take a closer look at.
The challenges of ADHD
Any child or adult diagnosed with ADHD undoubtedly faces challenges. Many of the symptoms of the disorder can make functioning in school or at work difficult.
The high energy and low attention span that’s a feature of ADHD is not well suited to formal schooling and it’s common for diagnosed students to underperform unless the proper accommodations are made. Those who do not receive a diagnosis are in some ways worse off – they are labelled as ‘troubled’ or ‘lazy’ and get left behind.
Even though some of the more extreme behaviours associated with the disorder are moderated in adulthood, many studies have concluded that adult sufferers of ADHD are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol than the general population .
This trouble that adult sufferers often find themselves in is highlighted by the research conducted by the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). They found that from 25-40% of the prison population have ADHD with the majority being diagnosed .
Considering that only 4-8% of the total population is though the suffer from the disorder, ADHD sufferers are massively over represented in prisons . It is likely that with some more work to manage the symptoms of ADHD that many of those currently incarcerated could be rehabilitated into productive members of society.
The benefits of ADHD
It is not all doom and gloom though. With the right treatments and support, the energies of those suffering ADHD can be channelled in positive and constructive directions. Those with well managed ADHD often excel in environments that require constant change and movement.
Those diagnosed in childhood have the best chances of success due to their early diagnosis. This gives them time to develop suitable coping mechanisms and still engage with education and job training.
Adult sufferers who have learnt how to manage the disorder can be highly successful in roles that require a high level of multitasking. It has been noted that many successful olympic athletes and high performing business people have had ADHD diagnoses.
Maybe after reading about ADHD you suspect that you or your child may have the disorder, but how can you know for sure?
How do you know if you have ADHD?
The barriers to a diagnosis for ADHD are quite large. There is a minimum number of symptoms from each category that must be observed and these must be present for at least six months in two or more settings .
By looking at a list of typical symptoms you may suspect a diagnosis of ADHD, the only way to be sure is to go through a formal assessment.
Unfortunately, the use of ADHD as a descriptor for misbehaving children and adults without a formal diagnosis is common. Even if a person exhibits some of the symptoms listed above, it does not mean they have ADHD!
Living with ADHD means a lifetime of the symptoms that have been described here, not the occasional case of forgetfulness or a child going through a stage of misbehavior.
Here are some quick and very important facts about ADHD that everyone should be aware of:
- The most common mental disorder in children. ADHD is by far the most diagnosed mental disorder in children and the symptoms continue into adulthood – you never outgrow the disorder.
- 6.4 million American children diagnosed. The number of children diagnosed grows every year and still the research suggests that many more fail to get the diagnosis and help they need. Many adults still struggle with undiagnosed ADHD.
- Diagnosis is a complex. It is far from easy to get an ADHD diagnosis. A trained clinician must make a number of observations over a six month period before an official diagnosis can be made.
- Symptoms appear between the ages 3-6. Children with ADHD symptoms start to show them early in life. The sooner they are diagnosed, the higher chance they have of successfully managing their symptoms into adulthood.
- ADHD can be treated. ADHD is not something that can be cured, but there are many strategies and therapies available to help sufferers manage their symptoms.
- Males are three times as likely to be diagnosed. Young boys, especially those with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are more likely to be successfully diagnosed. Young girls typically present with inattentive type ADHD, which is often missed by parents, teachers and clinicians.
- ADHD is underdiagnosed. According to the CDC 5% of American children have a current diagnosis, but further studies have indicated that the actual rate could be much higher .
ADHD is a disorder that is often misunderstood and there are many myths surrounding its diagnosis, symptoms and treatment. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Children outgrow ADHD. Although symptoms may become less extreme with age, ADHD is a lifetime diagnosis and many adults suffer from the disorder. Without proper treatment, adult sufferers are highly vulnerable to other mental disorders and substance abuse.
- ADHD only affects boys. The disorder is diagnosed far more often in males, but this does not mean females do not suffer. Although the disorder is thought to be less likely in girls according to clinical trials, it is also under diagnosed and the real number of sufferers could be much higher .
- People with ADHD are lazy. Well managed ADHD can be a real asset and ma ny high performing athletes, entrepreneurs and CEOs have been diagnosed with the disorder.
- ADHD is not a real disorder. It is real and identified as such by the The American Psychiatric Society . The American Disability Association Act even identifies ADHD as an accepted disability, which gives you an idea of the real impact the disorder can have on a person life .
- Too many children are wrongly diagnosed. A formal diagnosis is a lengthy and thorough process and mistakes are rare. It is believed that ADHD is underdiagnosed currently.
- ADHD is caused by poor parenting. The negative behaviours associated with ADHD are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, not learned behaviours.
Without a doubt, those with ADHD have a number of disadvantages in life. School, university, work and even simple social situations can be challenging for those with the disorder. The most effective way to help those with ADHD begin overcoming these challenges is to get a formal diagnosis.
Treatments for ADHD have advanced significantly in recent years and there are many strategies that sufferers can use to control their symptoms.
With well managed ADHD, there is nothing you cannot do. In fact, there are many famous, wealthy and high performing athletes who have been able to manage their symptoms while also harnessing the energy of their disorder to bring them success in life.
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