Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that is characterized by a person's inability to focus attention. The condition is present at birth and is usually evident by early childhood, although some persons are not diagnosed until adulthood. ADHD is thought to be a disorder of the functioning of the brain that may be caused by hereditary factors or exposure of the developing fetus to harmful substances.

ADHD is estimated to occur in 3 to 5 percent of school-age children in the United States; boys with the disorder outnumber girls who have it. ADHD is a major cause of poor school performance.

Symptoms of ADHD

For purposes of diagnosis, the symptoms of ADHD are divided into two categories: one describes symptoms related to a person's inability to pay attention; the other describes symptoms related to a person's level of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Symptoms of inattentiveness include a child's (1) failure to pay attention to detail, (2) tendency to make careless errors in schoolwork, (3) inability to follow instructions or complete tasks with ease, (4) seeming not to listen when spoken to, (5) having apparent difficulty keeping attention on the subject at hand, (6) frequently losing things necessary for schoolwork or play, and (7) being easily distracted by sights or sounds.

Symptoms of hyperactivity include a child's (1) inability to sit still,(2) running around or climbing when expected to remain seated, (3) excessive talking, and (4) difficulty playing or performing activities quietly. Symptoms of impulsive behavior in social situations include (1) blurting out answers before questions are completed, (2) difficulty waiting for one's turn, and (3) interrupting others.

Effect of ADHD on learning

ADHD is not a learning disability, but it often has a serious effect on learning because of a child's inability to pay attention, follow instructions, remember information, or complete a task. Many people who have this disorder are highly intelligent but may do poorly in school because of the regimentation of traditional classroom settings. In addition, children with ADHD may have problems making friends because of their tendency to take over activities or talk too much, their inability to follow the rules of games or activities, or other inappropriate behavior.

Treatment of ADHD

In order to effectively treat a child with ADHD, the child, his parents, and his teachers must be educated as to the nature of the disorder and how it affects the child's functioning. Treatment usually involves psychological counseling, behavior modification, providing structured settings and controls, and giving the child frequent praise and rewards for completing tasks and controlling behavior.

Words to Know

Behavior modification: A type of therapy that uses learning techniques in an attempt to substitute inappropriate behavior with appropriate behavior.

Hyperactivity: A condition of being overly or abnormally active.

Impulsiveness: Spontaneous action without prior thought.

Treatment with medication is sometimes effective in relieving symptoms of ADHD. The drugs Ritalin and Dexedrine, which are stimulants, have shown remarkable success in temporarily improving a child or an adult's ability to focus in up to 90 percent of cases. These drugs are only effective in the short-term, however. Once the drug leaves the body or is stopped, symptoms of ADHD return. Other drugs, including certain antidepressants, are also sometimes used to control symptoms.

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