What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it is more common in people with learning difficulties. People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as anxiety and sleep disorders.

Symptoms of ADHD tend to be first noticed at an early age and are likely to become more noticeable when a child’s situation changes, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed in children between the ages of 6 and 12. The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who are diagnosed with the condition at a young age will continue to experience problems.

Many toddlers and young children are restless or agitated and excitable. This is normal as they have lots of energy and are constantly learning about the world and moving from one experience to the next.

However, some children are extremely overactive and do not grow out of this type of behaviour. It can be very difficult to keep them safe and calm. They may be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), if they do not show the symptoms relating to hyperactivity.

Children and young people with ADHD may experience the following symptoms:

Issues around attention

Difficulty with concentration, short attention span, getting distracted, finding it hard to follow instructions, misplacing things or not being organised.

Issues around hyperactivity

Finding it hard to sit still, struggling to keep sitting down, fidgeting and moving a lot, talking or making noises, fiddling with things.

Issues around impulsiveness

Interrupting other people, finding it hard to wait their turn, doing things or saying things without thinking through the consequences, having a diminished sense of danger.

Children with ADHD find it really hard to control their behaviour and have difficulty concentrating. They may do things without considering the consequences, and then get into trouble. They may have issues at school because they cannot concentrate on their work, (whatever their level of intelligence) and they can have friendship problems if they are not able to listen to their peers or wait their turn to speak.

ADHD is diagnosed in around one to two children out of every 100 and it is more common in boys than girls. It is thought to be caused by problems in the part of the brain that controls impulses and concentration, but other factors can also have an impact. There is probably also a genetic element, as ADHD can run in families.