An introduction

The symptoms of ADHD are based around hyperactivity and an inability to remain still. An individual with ADHD may be restless and have difficulties maintaining their focus, which can cause issues with their experience at school, and even in social situations, meaning making friends and creating a positive bond with others can be difficult.

ADHD signs and symptoms

Two of the main symptoms of ADHD, particularly amongst teenagers and children, are restlessness and hyperactivity. In general, children can show signs of some of these symptoms for a while, particularly if they are going through an uncomfortable phase such as a growth spurt, or if the individual is feeling down. Or sometimes, if a child feels hungry, they’ve had a difficult day at school or their sibling seems to be receiving more attention than them, it is possible that these symptoms will be on show. However, if these symptoms are continuous and prolonged for more than just a few weeks, it may be a sign that a child has ADHD.

The two types of ADHD

There is another condition which is similar to ADHD, called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is based around a lack of attentiveness, as opposed to the more general hyperactivity symptoms that you might find with ADHD.

The main symptoms of ADHD:

  • An individual may find it near impossible to be still in any situation, even if there are no noises or distractions.
  • A person with ADHD may find it difficult to resist the urge to fidget. They could fidget with any item they have with them, such as paper, clothing or even their own fingers. Fidgeting may become such a habit for a person with ADHD that it may become a subconscious activity. The individual might not always be aware that they are fidgeting.
  • Someone with ADHD may be easily distracted or find it difficult to focus on what they are doing. An individual may find themselves gazing out of the window or scrolling through their phone at a time when they are meant to be focusing. As with fidgeting, the person may not be aware that they’ve become distracted by this other activity.
  • An individual may get the urge to talk frequently, which may sometimes come across as rambling.
  • It has been known for people with ADHD to interrupt conversations. This may be because the individual is not sure when it will be their turn to talk.

Symptoms of inattentiveness can be slightly different:

  • An individual may make regular mistakes with academic work, or tasks in the office. The individual may struggle with attention to detail and, as a result, make careless errors.
  • Someone who struggles with inattentiveness may have a messy bedroom, they may be frequently forgetful and unorganised. Their desk at school or work may be cluttered with poorly arranged documents.
  • An individual with ADD may have difficultly completing tasks which they do not find fulfilling or interesting. The individual may have a slow, gradual work ethic and they may be known to switch between tasks at regular intervals.
  • Giving verbal instructions to someone with ADD can be a challenge. The individual may be seemingly reluctant to listen or absorb the information. But this may be due to the individual struggling to concentrate and being easily distracted.

ADHD causes and risk factors

ADHD can be inherited from a parent, but this isn’t always the case. If an individual has epilepsy, brain damage or they were born prematurely, then they will be at a higher risk for ADHD. If the individual has brain damage, then it is possible that it could have occurred during the pregnancy, while they were in the womb, but the brain damage also could have occurred in later life.

However, there isn’t a specific cause for ADHD, but the factors listed above all influence the likelihood of an individual being diagnosed with the condition.

adhd causes and risk factors

How is ADHD diagnosed?

The first stage of seeking a diagnosis will be to interact with all parties in your child’s life, the most likely people will be teachers and doctors. The GP is unable to assess or diagnose your child themselves, but they are able to refer your child to a specialist. Once you have entered into communication about the possibility of ADHD, there are likely to be a few questions about your child’s symptoms. This stage is important, as your answers will help to create an insight into the symptoms and how they are affecting your child.

The questions can include:

  • The GP or teacher may enquire as to what the symptoms are and what situations they tend to be the most influential. For example, if your child suffers from frequent hyperactivity, you’ll need to consider which situations these symptoms arise in, whether this is at school, around their friends or when they are getting ready for bed.
  • How long has your child experienced these symptoms? Have the symptoms been present since birth or did they only develop at a specific age?
  • Have there been any major events recently which could have influenced your child’s behaviour? For example, if there has been a family bereavement or a divorce, then these situations can trigger a change in behaviour.
  • Do any members of your family have either a learning difficulty or ADHD?
  • Has your child been diagnosed with any other conditions? ADHD can commonly be diagnosed alongside other conditions.

Depending on the answers to these questions, your GP may suggest keeping a diary of the symptoms and any changes over a period of time. If the symptoms are continuous then it is likely that your child will be referred to a Psychiatrist, a Learning Difficulties Specialist or even an Occupational Therapist for an assessment.

The assessment can take the form of a physical examination, to observe any other potential reasons for your child’s behaviour. The assessor might also choose to ask for some extra insights into your child’s behaviour and tendencies, and so various members of your child’s life may be asked to answer some questions about their experience of your child’s habits and behaviour.

Criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD

An assessor will often need some information of when the child or young person’s symptoms started, which can include whether or not the individual has experienced several different traits of the condition throughout their life. The assessor will also need information on consistency and environmental causes, for example – when do the symptoms become apparent and which situations do they influence the individual the most. To make a diagnosis more likely, the symptoms will need to be influential towards your child’s behaviour in at least two or three situations. The assessor will be looking for symptoms which would be on the main list of ADHD symptoms, as there are other conditions with traits that are known to overlap, making a misdiagnosis possible.

Diagnosing ADHD in adults

Symptoms of ADHD can be displayed in a different manner for adults, but an assessor will need to know if the individual has been experiencing symptoms since childhood. Any hyperactivity or restlessness may have developed into behaviour such as frequent fidgeting. It will also be important to assess how the symptoms affect other areas of the person’s life, such as their performance at work and their social life.

treatment of adhd

Treatment of ADHD

Medication and therapy can help to manage symptoms of ADHD. An individual can be prescribed stimulants to improve their ability to focus, which may also have a positive effect on some of their other symptoms. Talking therapy, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Counselling or Psychotherapy may also be offered.

What happens when my child has been diagnosed with ADHD?

A child can respond positively to a schedule. Learning to perform daily tasks in a specific order can be beneficial for a child and their symptoms, and it is also possible to use their schedule to create a set of boundaries for what behaviour will be tolerated and what behaviour cannot be displayed.

Positivity and celebrating the completion of tasks can really help your child to associate positive behaviour with positive outcomes. You can consider rewarding your child with small treats, such as their favourite television programme, if they can complete a task that they struggle with.

Training for parents

Being offered parental training is not an automatic conclusion that your parenting skills are bad, it is rather a way of offering an education in an area where you may not be familiar. The training sessions are there to equip you with the skills and knowledge to help to manage your child’s condition, and it will also provide the opportunity to meet other parents in the same position.

Tips for parents

Amongst the talking therapies that are available, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is usually more active than other talking therapies such as Counselling or Psychotherapy. This means that your child may find CBT a stimulating experience and it may encourage them to become actively involved in their treatment. CBT is a way of finding solutions to problematic situations or behaviour.

If your child has been diagnosed, or is due to be assessed, then it is advisable to interact with anyone that may need to know about the situation, such as teachers, parents of your child’s friends or even local shopkeepers. If other people are aware of the situation, then it can create a level of understanding and empathy towards any difficult behaviour.

Make a diary of how your child responds to any prescribed medication. This is important as your doctor may request feedback, to assess whether medication is working or whether your child needs to be provided with a different approach.

Children under the age of six

It would usually be advised to continuously observe any symptoms until a child gets older, as it is much more difficult to assess children under the age of 6. This is because a child’s overall personality traits and behaviour are still developing, and any concerning symptoms can be a sign of other conditions. But it is still possible for young children to be diagnosed with ADHD.

School children and teenagers

Whilst therapy will still be offered to children and young people who are at primary school, secondary school or in higher education, there are specific types of medication which are offered to individuals within this age range.

children under the age of

School children and teenagers

Whilst therapy will still be offered to children and young people who are at primary school, secondary school or in higher education, there are specific types of medication which are offered to individuals within this age range.

Lisdexamphetamine will often be offered to young people first, which is a medication which should improve impulsiveness. If this medicine doesn’t prove to be that effective, there is another medication called Guanfacine, which is designed to reduce blood pressure and increase a person’s ability to focus. There are usually the possibility of side-effects with medications, and so your GP will have a conversation with you beforehand, so that you are aware of the risks involved.

Treatment recommendations for ADHD

As well as the previously mentioned medication and talking therapy, there is also the possibility that a change of diet may prove to be beneficial. A dietician or a nutritionist can investigate an individual’s symptoms and provide recommendations for certain foods to avoid and specific foods to include in a new diet.

Managing symptoms: staying healthy

It’s important to appreciate that a child with ADHD will only have a certain amount of power over their symptoms. Helping a child to manage their symptoms can be a frustrating experience, but there are ways to improve the situation.

You can keep a record of situations where the individual’s symptoms seem to be most apparent. Learning some distraction techniques can be beneficial if you can see that your child’s behaviour is close to being triggered.

It’s important to create situations where your child can socialise and exercise in a safe environment. This can include arranging short, or timed, social situations with their friends, or letting them run around in the park for a few minutes. This can help to develop their social skills, and give them some beneficial exercise which can boost their mood and help them to sleep at night.


Hyperactivity, a lack of focus and impulsive behaviour are symptoms that can affect children, teenagers and adults who have either been diagnosed, or can potentially be diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD will usually begin at a young age, but the condition can become apparent as the individual gets older. Symptoms appear slightly different for adults and so the condition can often be harder to spot, but if the behaviour is affecting an individual’s working life, social life and relationships then it is advisable to speak to a medical professional to discuss the symptoms. Lifestyle changes can help to manage symptoms, as can various types of medication, as well as talking therapies such as CBT, Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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