ADHD Part 1: What is ADHD?
It’s that time of year again – back to school! Though many children thrive in the classroom setting, children with ADHD may face difficulties focusing, sitting still for long periods, and getting work done with many distractions around them. So to kick off the new school year we will be spending the month of September taking a deep dive into ADHD with a 3-part blog series. Today, we focus on the facts: what is ADHD and what are the symptoms? Next week we will dive into the impact of ADHD on the brain and executive functions, and part 3 will focus on strategies for supporting kids with ADHD at home and school. So, lets dive in!
What does ADHD stand for?
ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is defined by the DSM-5 as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, as characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Fewf that’s a mouthfull! Let’s break it down: “Hyperactivity” refers to being atypically active (aka a lot of energy), and “impulsivity” refers to difficulty thinking before acting or speaking. So, to be diagnosed with ADHD a person is either more active and impulsive than others or has more difficulty focusing than others, or both (we will get into the 3 types next), and these symptoms are interfering with daily functioning.
Isn’t it called ADD?
If you are an adult, than you probably think of the term ADD when thinking about ADHD. That is because ADHD was once only a subcategory of ADD (attention-deficit disorder). In the most recent diagnositic manual (the manual used to diagnose mental illness – click here to learn more about it), called the DMS-5, ADD was removed as a diagnosis and replaced with three types of ADHD. So – we no longer use the term ‘ADD’ in Mental health. We only use the term ‘ADHD’ and the specific types of ADHD. Here are the three ‘presentations’ or types of ADHD a person can currently be diagnosed with:
1. Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Symptoms may include difficulty attending to details, difficulty sustaining attention, difficulty listening when spoken to, difficulty following through on instructions, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, reluctance to engage in tasks that require sustained effort, often losing things needed to complete tasks (like homework!), easily distracted by the environment and/or thoughts, and forgetful in daily activities.
2. Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation: Symptoms may include constant fidgeting, leaving their seat when being seated is expected, running/climbing when it is inappropriate/often feeling restless, difficulty playing quietly, often ‘on the go’, often talks excessively, often blurts out an answer before the question is completed, often interrupts others.
3. Combined Presentation: These kids show a combination of symptoms from both the inattentive presentation and the hyperactive/impulsive presentation.
What Causes ADHD?
There is not a clear cause of ADHD, however children who have ADHD often have a parent or relative with ADHD, showing a likely genetic factor.
What Types of Interventions are helpful for children with ADHD?
1. Behaviour Therapy: Therapists can work directly with children to help them develop social, emotional, and planning skills.
2. Parent Coaching: Parents can work with a therapist to learn the best ways to respond to behaviour difficulties. This is so important – there are many strategies that parents can implement at home to support their child and make their lives easier – we will provide a list of strategies in part 3 of this ADHD post series, so stay tuned!
3. School Support: Extra support and accommodations at school can help children with ADHD manage symptoms in school. As a therapist I often work directly with teachers to help develop support plans for children with ADHD. Many teachers are familiar with ADHD and know of many ways to support your child at school, so I always recommend talking openly with your child’s teacher about your child’s needs.
4. Medication: Medication may help reduce symptoms in some children with ADHD. If you are interested in learning more about medications for ADHD, speak with your family Doctor. But remember – medication can’t teach new skills. I always recommend seeking support from a mental health professional for items 1-3 on this list so you, your child, and their teacher can learn ways to support the symptoms of ADHD.
5. Healthy Living: Regular activity and healthy eating are important for all children. If you are interested in learning more about how to support your child’s wellness through food, speak to a registered nutritionist or naturopathic doctor who specializes in mental health.
So those are the basic facts about what ADHD is and what the symptoms are. Clear as mud, right? Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of the ADHD series where we will be diving into the impact of ADHD on the brain and executive functions. If you have any questions about ADHD, please post them in the comments or send me an email so I can be sure to answer them in future posts!
Until next time,
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
Kids Health, https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/adhd.html, 2019