- What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.’ It is a condition that affects people’s behaviour, usually occurring in childhood and lasting into adulthood. Often characterised by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, ADHD is a complex mental health condition whereby the brain development and activity of someone with the condition is different to that of someone without it.
2. Who is most likely to be diagnosed with ADHD?
ADHD is found to be more common in boys than in girls, affecting a considerable three times as many males than females. Statistics highlight that during their lifetime, 13% of all men will be diagnosed with ADHD, whereas that figure is noticeably lower for women, at just 4.2%.
ADHD is usually diagnosed in school age children, with most cases being diagnosed in people between the ages of 6 and 12 (the average age being 7.) It is important to note that ADHD is not just a child’s illness, for although it is a lot less common, it can also be diagnosed in adults too. Research does suggest, however, that since ADHD is a developmental illness, it cannot develop in adulthood, as the development happens in the brain, usually when the baby is still in the womb. The most likely reason why some adults are diagnosed with ADHD, is because it has not been identified and treated in their childhood, but the fact is, it has always been there, the discovery of it has just been rather late.
3. What are the possible causes of ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition whereby the brains of those effected develop differently during key stages of their development, either before they were born or as a very young child. The most likely cause of ADHD is therefore centred around one’s brain development.
People with ADHD are thought to have certain areas of their brain that are smaller than the average person’s brain without the condition, and they are also thought to have an imbalance in the level of neurotransmitters in their brain.
The differences in the development of people with ADHD compared to the average person could be due to several factors associated with birth, such as being born prematurely, underweight, with epilepsy, or with brain damage. It could also be due to genetics.
It is common knowledge that ADHD tends to run in families, and therefore someone who has a parent with the condition is likely to inherit the gene which puts them at greater risk of having ADHD too.
The most likely explanation of what causes ADHD is a combination of both genetics, and factors associated with birth, as described above.
4. How does ADHD affect
- The individual:
ADHD is a mental health condition that has a profound impact on one’s ability to concentrate and actively practice methods of self-control.
People diagnosed with the condition find staying focused incredibly difficult. It is because of this fact that children with ADHD are more likely to get into trouble than those without it, a result of their short attention span.
Getting into trouble often results in disciplinary action being taken, however, for children with ADHD, they can find this hard to accept. The reason why they find being told off so hard to accept is because, ultimately, they cannot control their disruptive behaviour (getting easily distracted, not listening etc), as it is a symptom of their ADHD. Being told off for something they cannot control may lead to them suffering from a lack of self-esteem, a result of being made to feel as though there is something ‘wrong’ with them and that they are a ‘failure’ for not fitting the norm.
The outcome of ADHD for many people is a long struggle with academia, as frequently getting into trouble at school due to lacking concentration and focus during lessons can put them considerably behind their peers in terms of educational progress.
- Their life:
Someone with a diagnosis of ADHD has an increased risk of developing further mental health illnesses as a result, such as anxiety. They are also more likely to abuse substances such as drugs or alcohol, in an attempt to seek ‘relief’ from their overactive mind. This can lead to unemployment, as well as difficulties socialising with others due to feeling like they ‘don’t fit in.’ Any relationships that are present are likely to become strained because of their unpredictable behaviour.
If they feel rejected by society, particularly due to their difficult schooling years, they might turn to antisocial behaviour, getting into trouble with the police and having an impact on their future by damaging their reputation.
Romantic relationships, as is the case with all relationships, are likely to be a difficult thing to maintain for someone with ADHD. If they settle down and decide to have children, they run the risk of their child having ADHD too, as it is thought to be largely influenced by genetics. Being a parent with ADHD and having a child with ADHD can unsurprisingly result in lots of difficulties and conflict arising throughout their life, particularly in the early years.
5. How might an individual’s ADHD affect others?
ADHD does not just affect the individual with the diagnosis, but their family, friends, and peers too.
As ADHD is a challenging illness to manage, families consisting of someone who has the condition, whether that be a child or a parent, is likely to be run high on stress.
In the case of it being a child with ADHD, if they have siblings, this can have a profound impact on them. The demands of someone with ADHD require intensive support, and this may cause siblings to feel as though they are not being treated in the same way. Not only can this lead to conflict arising between parents and children, but also between siblings, as a sort of ‘rivalry’ might arise in which they feel as though they need to ‘fight for attention’ to combat the feelings of jealousy, and even resentment. The conflict that is likely to arise in such a setting explains why the rate of divorce and depression is so high for parents who have a child with ADHD, compared with other families.
An individuals ADHD may also have an impact on people outside of their family home, such as their school friends. The disruptive behaviour displayed by many ADHD sufferers demand a lot of time and attention. In a school environment, the teacher’s attention would therefore be diverted from the rest of the pupils to the individual with ADHD. This can result in some pupils lacking the help and support they need from their teachers. If lessons are constantly being disrupted, it can also affect the whole class’s ability to learn, which could have a negative impact on their results, effecting their overall grades which could have a massive influence on their future.
6. What are the common symptoms associated with ADHD?
The symptoms of ADHD can be divided into two categories, with those categories being inattentiveness, and hyperactivity & impulsiveness. Whilst they are both behavioural problems, the former can generally be observed in people who have a short attention span, meaning that they can be easily distracted.
Another symptom that indicates the presence of inattentiveness is making careless mistakes, such as in schoolwork. These mistakes are likely to be made because of their poor concentration meaning that they struggle to retain information they have been told.
People with ADHD who are ‘inattentive’ are also likely to have difficulty organising tasks and carrying them out, especially if they are time-consuming. This can lead to them frequently changing activities/tasks, as they seemingly lose interest very quickly. The same lack of interest can also be seen in conversations had with people who have ADHD. People who struggle with inattentiveness may appear unable to listen or to carry out instructions. This is because their mind is ‘on other things’, hence why they may also appear forgetful.
The symptoms that suggest inattentiveness, as described above, can be commonly observed in children under the age of 6.
The latter category of ADHD symptoms, hyperactivity & impulsiveness, refer less to what someone with ADHD cannot do (pay attention), and more about what they can do (seemingly everything, and constantly.) One of the main symptoms associated with hyperactivity & impulsiveness is the inability to sit still, particularly in quiet surroundings. They, seemingly, want to be engaging in physical movement constantly, and this usually manifests itself in constant fidgeting.
Another major symptom is being unable to concentrate on tasks. Not only do people with ADHD have a hyperactive body which always wants to be moving, they also have a hyperactive brain, and mouth. They often find it difficult to ‘wait their turn’, and are prone to interrupt, and try to dominate, conversations. This combined with their impulsiveness in which they often act without thinking, can leave them subject to getting into trouble often, particularly with teachers at school.
Adults with ADHD share the same symptoms as children, except they portray a greater level of inattentiveness while displaying much less hyperactivity & impulsiveness.
7. How can others help an individual with ADHD to manage their condition?
If someone suspects they have ADHD, or in the case of a child, if someone else suspects they have it, then they should be encouraged to get a formal diagnosis as soon as possible. Once a diagnosis is ‘in writing’, the individual can start to receive treatment for the condition, helping to manage their symptoms and reducing the responsibility and stress placed on the family. When a treatment plan is agreed, an individual might need prompting to build it into their routine and be consistent with it. If they are of school age, their school should be informed of their diagnosis, since schools have dedicated members of staff who can ensure that pupils with additional needs such as ADHD get the support that they need to thrive in a school environment. Behaviour management skills might be a good thing to consider, whereby a point system and/or positive recognition is used to encourage good behaviour. Over time, this may help to reduce the symptoms of ADHD associated with hyperactivity, something which can often lead to disruptive behaviour if left unquestioned.
8. What local resources and treatments are available to people experiencing ADHD?
- CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.)
CAMHS is a free, NHS funded community-based treatment service for young people under the age of 18. They offer support to individuals who suspect they might have ADHD, providing an initial assessment and subsequent therapy sessions, if the diagnostic criterion for ADHD is met.
If appropriate, CAMHS can prescribe medication to help individuals to manage the symptoms for their ADHD, though where possible, a holistic approach is taken, with one-to-one therapy being effective for most people. These therapy sessions provide patients with strategies to help them learn how to manage their own symptoms.
CAMHS also aim to educate patients and their caregivers by informing them of what ADHD is- discussing its causes, symptoms, and impact etc- so that any shame and stigma felt around having the illness can be removed, with those negative emotions instead being replaced with a sense of empowerment.
As well as communicating with the individual and their family, CAMHS will also liaise with the child’s school to ensure that they receive adequate support throughout their education, offering teachers strategies to deal with disruptive behaviour in the classroom.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Service
This is a specialist service for adults living in Yorkshire with an ADHD diagnosis.
It is most used by patients who have been referred from CAMHS after turning 18, although it is also accessible for people who may be seeking a new diagnosis.
The team consists of nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists, all of whom work together to provide the best level of care for people with ADHD.
Not only does the service help individuals to manage the symptoms of their ADHD, but they also offer help and advice regarding employability, education, finances, and housing, therefore giving its service users hope for the future.
- Behaviour Therapy
Behaviour therapy provides support for individuals with ADHD, as well as their family members, and, if the individual is a child, the teachers from their school.
The therapy focuses on managing challenging behaviour by implementing a system of rewards to discourage some of the negative symptoms that ADHD can externally present itself as. By rewarding positive behaviour, the aim is that children will learn how to control their ADHD. Although the symptoms will not just ‘disappear’, they can be managed, which is what behaviour therapy is based around.
Available for anyone over the age of 5, Methylphenidate is the most used medicine administered for the treatment of ADHD. Classified as a ‘stimulant’, it works by increasing activity in the brain, with its focus being on improving the parts of the brain that control one’s behaviour and attentiveness.
If Methylphenidateare is effective at helping to reduce symptoms of ADHD, the individual should notice an improvement in their concentration, with an increased attention span being recognised.