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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD definition. Signs, symptoms, and  causes of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

ADHD definition. Signs, symptoms, and causes of ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood, affecting an estimated 3-5% of school-aged children. It is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls. Most children with ADHD also have at least one other developmental or behavioral problem.

Definition of ADHD:

ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination of both. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for the child's age and development.

Symptoms of ADHD:

Either (1) or (2):

1. Inattention: six (or more) of the following symptoms of inattention have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level:

  • often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  • often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • is often forgetful in daily activities

2. Hyperactivity-impulsivity: six (or more) of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level:

Hyperactivity Symptoms:

    • often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
    • often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
    • often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
    • often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
    • is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor"
    • often talks excessively

 

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Impulsivity Symptoms:

  • often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

Additional criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD

  • Some hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms that caused impairment were present before age 7 years.
  • Some impairment from the symptoms is present in two or more settings (e.g., at school [or work] and at home).
  • There must be clear evidence of clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

Causes of ADHD

While the exact cause of ADHD is unknown, there seems to be a genetic component to ADHD. In addition, neuroimaging studies suggest that the brains of children with ADHD are different from those of other children. These children handle neurotransmitters (including dopamine, serotonin, and adrenalin) differently from their peers.

For comprehensive information on ADHD and other behavior and learning disorders, visit the HealthyPlace.com ADHD Community.

Source: American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

back to: Psychiatric Disorders Definitions Index

Last Updated: 29 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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