The five major symptoms of ADHD in children are inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, difficulty with social skills and difficulty managing emotions, especially anger. Often, people are described as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) when they struggle with attention but not hyperactive and impulsive behavior. While the terms might be used interchangeably, ADHD is the official name of the disorder used by the American Psychiatric Association. In order for a correct diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s age and present for at least six months.
Major ADHD symptoms include inattention, meaning a child is easily distracted, doesn’t follow directions or finish tasks, is forgetful about daily activities, doesn’t seem to listen, makes careless mistakes, tends to daydream, has trouble organizing daily tasks, often loses things and dislikes activities that mean they must sit still or tasks that require a sustained effort.
Hyperactivity means children will not stay seated when they are expected to; squirm, fidget or bounce when sitting; have a hard time playing quietly; are always moving, running or climbing; and talk excessively. Of course, toddlers and young kids are extremely active, curious, trying out new things and learning about the world. The intensity is what doctors look for in an ADHD diagnosis, and that becomes more defined during a child’s early school years.
Impulsivity means children blurt out answers before a question has been completed, have difficulty waiting for their turn, aren’t good at sharing and interrupt others often. Often because children will act without thinking through the consequences, they will be accident-prone.
People with ADHD have difficulty with social skills, such as making friends and maintaining friendships. They don’t do well in social settings because they have difficulty processing verbal and nonverbal language that offer cues for certain behaviors and they often will drift off during a conversation. About half of children and adolescents with ADHD will encounter social rejection from their peers.
Emotional control also is a major signal of ADHD in children. When ADHD children become frustrated or angry, that will come out, and often children will have difficulty controlling their anger. Adults with ADHD have been shown to have a higher-than-average divorce rate.
ADHD can cause havoc for children in school, making it difficult for them to learn and to get along in the classroom settings, which can affect their self-esteem. Also, children with ADHD are at risk for depression, anxiety, developing conduct disorder, drug abuse and learning disorders. They might have a delay in speech, language and motor development. Teens with ADHD face the risk of problems with alcohol and tobacco use, pregnancy and car accidents.
Adults with ADHD at times don’t display hyperactivity. However, just as children have difficulty in school and family life, adults with ADHD usually face problems on the job and/or in relationships. They can have difficulty with time management, organizing and setting goals, which will affect their ability to succeed in the workplace.They can be easily distracted, talk too much and have difficulty with quiet activities. Adults face the same problems as children with social behavior, because they aren’t able to pick up on cues to guide their behavior.
Treatments are designed to help people with ADHD manage the symptoms and adjust to their disorder. People learn to focus their attention, develop their personal strengths and stop disruptive behavior,thus becoming productive and successful.
Many types of drugs are used to control symptoms of ADHD, and it could take time and experimentation for a health care provider to find the most effective drug and dosage. Stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, Focalin, Vyvanse, Quillivant and Ritalin, are used to treat moderate and severe ADHD and have been found to be helpful for 70 percent to 80 percent of people with ADHD. These drugs are used for children, adolescents and adults. Side effects can include weight loss and decreased appetite, sleep problems, headaches and the jitters. Sometimes, the drug can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems or worsen psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety or psychosis. Health care providers can change the dosage and the medication to prevent such side effects.
Nonstimulant drugs, including Strattera, Intuniv and Kapvay, are used alone or in combination with a stimulant. These medications target improvement in concentration and impulse control. Sometimes, stimulant and nonstimulant drugs aren’t effective or people can’t tolerate side effects. In that case, other medications might be used, including Elavil, Norpramin, Catapres, Tenex and Wellbutrin.
For adults with ADHD, cognitive behavior therapy is often recommended. It’s a type of talk therapy to help people change their thoughts and behaviors, aiding with self-control, motivation, organization and time management. Some people find an ADHD coach, talking with them several times a week. Coaches can help with organizational abilities and reducing anger levels. They can also help with strategies to avoid negative behaviors, such as leaving credit cards at home to prevent impulse purchases. Experts advise people considering ADHD coaches to make sure the coach has a master’s degree in counseling or a related mental health field.
Research on an ADHD diet has shown mixed results and study continues. Some findings indicate people have been helped by a high-protein diet, including beans, nuts, eggs, meat and cheese. Adding protein in the morning and for after-school snacks might help with concentration and extend the effects of ADHD medications. Some expertsalso suggest that people limit eating candy, corn syrup, honey, sugar, potatoes without skins, white rice and products made from white flour, increase their complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits, and get more omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in salmon, tuna and other cold-water white fish, olive oil, Brazil nuts and canola oil. Some studies show it’s helpful to add a daily vitamin and mineral supplement and avoid artificial food colors — especially red and yellow — and additives such as aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and nitrites.