ADHD in kids and adults: It takes awareness and action

ADHD affects millions of people—kids and adults. But being aware of the disorder and taking action to treat it can help people with ADHD live life at its fullest.

  • ADHD Awareness Month educates people about ADHD in kids and adults.
  • Bust the myths about what causes ADHD (it’s not sugar).
  • ADHD symptoms, diagnosis and treatment in kids and adults.

[4 MIN READ] 

It’s ADHD Awareness Month, which seeks to educate people about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids and adults. Two important goals of the month-long observance are to remove stigmas about the condition and support people with ADHD so they can thrive.

ADHD is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in children. According to a comprehensive study, it’s usually first identified in childhood, but can last into adulthood and be diagnosed later in life. Russell A. Barkley Ph.D., of the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, and an expert on ADHD, reports that the full disorder — or at least its symptoms — persists in 50% to 86% of people with ADHD.

Whether you’re the parent of a child who may have ADHD, or an adult who’s wondering if you have this condition, you probably have questions. Read on to learn more about the ADHD and what to do if you have concerns. 

Understanding ADHD

ADHD is a brain-based medical disorder that has to do with how a certain set of brain actions and related behaviors are controlled. These actions and behaviors are called “executive functioning skills,” and they include:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Learning from mistakes
  • Impulsivity (acting based on impulse instead of thought)
  • Hyperactivity (behavior that’s constantly active and sometimes disruptive)
  • Motivation and effort
  • Organization
  • Social skills

Genes play a major part in ADHD, but there are also other causes, such as chemical differences and variations in the way a person’s brain is structured. The American Psychological Association defines ADHD as a lifelong, persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity or both, which affects how a person lives and matures over time, and in various situations. 

Studies have put to rest certain myths about what causes ADHD. Over-consumption of sugar, watching too much television and the effects of certain parenting practices are a few of the causes that studies have invalidated. Researchers have also ruled out social and environmental causes, such as poverty or family turmoil. 

Three types of ADHD

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three different types of ADHD. One set of symptoms may be stronger in a person than another set, although the symptoms may be combined as well. 

  • With predominantly inattentive presentation, a person: 
    • Struggles to organize or finish a task, pay attention to details or follow instructions or conversations. 
    • Is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
  • With predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, a person: 
    • Fidgets and talks a lot. 
    • Finds it hard to sit still for long, for example, during meals or while doing homework.
    • Feels restless and struggles with impulsivity — meaning, the person may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people or speak at the wrong times. 
    • Doesn’t easily wait for his or her turn or listen to directions well. 
    • May have more accidents and injuries than others because of impulsiveness.
  • Combined presentation:
    • Both types are equally present in the person.

A word about symptoms in adults 

Many adults who have ADHD don’t know it. They may struggle with:

  • Being organized
  • Sticking with a job 
  • Remembering to keep appointments
  • Being productive at work
  • Academic problems 
  • Difficult or failed relationships
  • Multiple traffic accidents
  • Being viewed by others as uncaring or irresponsible

Untreated ADHD can cause personal and professional turmoil, including problems with self-esteem and emotional health. Knowing the signs can lead to proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Diagnosing ADHD in children and adults

There’s not just one medical, physical or genetic test for ADHD. That’s why meeting with a professional — either a doctor or mental health expert — is key to getting the right diagnosis.

Diagnosing a child with ADHD

The process of diagnosing a child with ADHD takes several steps. One reason is because other problems such as depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and certain learning disabilities can have symptoms like ADHD. In fact, dyslexiacan often present as ADHD making it difficult to determine which diagnosis is correct. Further complicating a diagnosis is data that shows that approximately 50% of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a learning difference like dyslexia. 

One step of the process is for your child to have a medical exam. The exam should include hearing and vision tests to help rule out other conditions that often include ADHD symptoms. Your child’s history will also be important to the exam. This will come from you, teachers and in some cases, your child.  Usually a checklist is needed to rate ADHD symptoms in a child. 

Diagnosing an adult with ADHD

Although there isn’t just one test for ADHD, a qualified mental health care professional or doctor can provide an evaluation after gathering information from a number of sources, including:

  • ADHD symptom checklists
  • A detailed history of current and past functioning
  • Standardized behavior rating scales
  • Information gathered from family members or others who know the person well

Some professionals will also test your cognitive ability and academic achievement so they can rule out a possible learning disability. An accurate diagnosis of ADHD from a brief office visit or conversation with your doctor is rare. In most cases, professionals need to map the history of your life and also consider whether there may be other physical or mental health conditions contributing to your symptoms.  

Another option is adult self-screening. Look for a self-screening tool that serves as a starting point to help you learn the symptoms of adult ADHD.

Treating ADHD in children and adults

Adults with ADHD can still benefit from similar treatment strategies that are used to treat ADHD in children. This applies especially to medicines that work for childhood ADHD.

Treatments for kids with ADHD may include:

  • Therapy. With therapy, your child can learn to cope with feelings, be more patient and have more self-control. A therapist’s goal is to help children see the best in themselves and figure out how to use their strengths.
  • Coaching parents and teachers. Parents learn how to help their kids develop listening skills and become better organized at home and in the classroom. Most importantly, you’ll be coached in ways to support and encourage your child with ADHD.
  •  Often used after implementing behavioral therapies, certain medications support the brain’s ability to focus.
    Treatments for adults with ADHD may include:
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of treatment helps adults with ADHD become more aware of their short attention span and concentration, and offers tools on how to improve both. It can teach skills to improve efficiency and organization in everyday tasks and also address feelings of low self-esteem. 
  • Social support. Along with therapy, it may help to talk with family, friends and even coworkers about your diagnosis. Being open about your ADHD can help people in your life have a better understanding of your behavior. Connecting with others through support groups is also a helpful option.

Treatment for ADHD can change the lives of kids and adults

Having ADHD isn’t your child’s fault — or yours. With the right treatment and support, kids with ADHD can use their energy and strengths to improve their attention and self-control and do well in school and the activities they enjoy. Most importantly, they can feel good about themselves.

It’s never too late to learn the symptoms and get diagnosed and treated for ADHD, as well as any other mental health condition or learning difference that may be related to it. There is effective treatment if you’re an adult with ADHD — and a healthier, more enjoyable life waiting for you and your family as a result. 

Find a doctor

The ADHD Awareness Month coalition encourages adults who think they may have ADHD, and parents who think their child might, to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. If that’s you, we can help.

Visit our provider directory to find a primary care doctor or specialist to start the conversation.

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October is ADHD Awareness Month. Share your stories or offer tips from your own #adhd experiences @providence. 

Related resources

CDC: Behavior therapy before medication for kids with ADHD

ADHD Awareness Month

American Psychological Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Work2BeWell and the future of mental wellness for students

ADHD Awareness Month: Adult Self-Screening Tool

The mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of yoga for kids

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Body & Mind Team is dedicated to providing medically-sound, data-backed insights and advice on how to reach and maintain your optimal health through a mixture of exercise, mindfulness, preventative care and healthy living in general.

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