Recognizing ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis that is often misunderstood and improperly diagnosed. ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or both. Below are examples of each:

Inattention Hyperactivity
Fails to give close attention to detail Fidgets with or taps hands or feet
Makes careless mistakes Squirms in seat
Does not seem to listen when spoke to directly Runs about or climbs in situations where this is not appropriate
Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish tasks Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities Often “on the go”; may appear restless
Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort Talks excessively
Loses necessary items Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli Has difficulty waiting his or her turn
Forgetful in daily activities Interrupts or intrudes on others

When most people look at this list, they identify with many of these behaviors. When diagnosing ADHD, it is important to consider if these behaviors happen often and when they started. A person with ADHD does not just get distracted and loses things. Everybody does that. An individual with ADHD shows a consistent pattern of the majority of the symptoms listed above. There are also many other reasons, other than ADHD, that someone would display these types of behaviors and that is why a thorough diagnosis is important before selecting a treatment plan. ADHD is a disorder that starts in childhood and some symptoms must be present prior to age 12.

Symptoms of ADHD may go unnoticed for several reasons. First, particularly for girls, when there is an absence of hyperactivity, symptoms of inattention may fly under the radar because these particular children are not disruptive or demanding of extra attention from teachers and caregivers. Second, many individuals with ADHD have a high IQ and thus may be able to compensate for their ADHD symptoms and not fall below grade level. In fact, many of the adults I meet that are just getting diagnosed tend to be of high IQ and did not start showing academic difficulties until college. Finally, we know that ADHD is genetic. This means that if your biological child has ADHD, the odds are higher that you do too. This may make the problems associated with ADHD less noticeable to you because you remember experiencing similar struggles.

Because many people can identify with some of the symptoms related to ADHD, it is important that a thorough assessment be conducted in order to make the correct diagnosis. In addition to determining the symptoms of ADHD, testing also looks for patterns in IQ and test performance that are often found individuals with ADHD. This type of testing is often required by schools if you are interested in academic accommodations and physicians if you are interested in trying ADHD medication.

There are many effective treatments for ADHD. Medication and behavior therapy are effective and either may be chosen based on the pattern and severity of symptoms. Research has shown that behavior therapy, which for children usually includes a parent training component, is especially effective when combined with medication. It can also be enormously beneficial to look at possible school-based interventions and accommodations to help work with the challenges associated with ADHD.