What is ADHD?


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobiological disorder that can be noticed in the preschool or early grades of school. ADHD affects between 5-12% of the population or about 1 or 2 students in every classroom.

ADHD is a medical diagnosis that is organized along two symptom clusters. They are:

Hyperactive-impulsive symptoms

Hyperactivity: difficulty regulating one’s activity level – for example constant movement in chair, getting up and down from chair, climbing, or running around when others are seated; also may manifest as talking so much that others can’t get a turn in.

Impulsivity: difficulty inhibiting behaviour – for example acting quickly without thinking.

Inattention symptoms

Inattention: difficulty attending to the task at hand – for example frequent daydreaming, lost in another world or easily sidetracked by what’s going on around.

Based on these two clusters of symptoms, there are three subtypes of ADHD:

  1. Predominantly hyperactive subtype
  2. Predominantly inattentive subtype  (sometimes called ADD)
  3. Combined subtype (with both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms)

Research has shown that school problems tend to be associated with the combined and inattentive subtypes. Students with these two subtypes tend to struggle more academically, and are more likely to fail a grade or receive lower grades than their non-ADHD classmates. By contrast, children with the predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive subtype may do well academically, but often experience disruptive and oppositional behaviours. For children who have combined subtype both academic and behavioural problems are an issue.

ADHD looks different in girls. Symptoms in girls are less noticeable than in boys. As a result, more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD (about 3:1). But both girls and boys with ADHD experience impairments with social skills and academics.

ADHD is a life-long condition that changes and evolves as a person ages. Adults frequently experience a decrease in the hyperactivity and impulsivity elements, but the inattention persists.

ADHD runs in families and has a genetic basis. Children with ADHD are 2 to 8 times more likely to have a sibling with ADHD or a parent with ADHD.

Individuals with ADHD may have many positive traits that are directly tied to their active, impulsive minds:

Creativity – People with ADD excel at thinking outside of the box, brainstorming, and finding creative solutions to problems. Because of their flexible way of thinking about things, they tend to be more open-minded, independent, and ready to improvise.

Enthusiasm and spontaneity – People with ADD are free spirits with lively minds—qualities that makes for good company and engrossing conversation. Their enthusiasm and spontaneous approach to life can be infectious.

A quick mind – People with ADD have the ability to think on their feet, quickly absorb new information (as long as it’s interesting), and multitask with ease. Their rapid-fire minds thrive on stimulation. They adapt well to change and are great in a crisis.

High energy level – People with ADD have loads of energy. When their attention is captured by something that interests them, they can have virtually unlimited stamina and drive.

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