Updated: Jun 7
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a Neurodevelopmental Disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsive behavior that interferes with the normal functioning or development of the child (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5).
Several studies suggest that ADHD is the behavioral manifestation of changes at the neurochemical level (specifically at the level of neurotransmitters such as dopamine). Some brain structures tend to be less developed in the brains of hyperactive children (such as the frontal lobe) and genetically, several genes have been studied that may be involved in this disorder. However, there is no clear consensus on the origin of this disturbance.
What are the symptoms?
Children diagnosed with ADHD can present a variable set of symptoms, most of which appear before the age of 12 and which are divided into two areas or typologies:
– Difficulties in paying attention to details;
– Difficulties in keeping attention on the performance of tasks or activities;
– Absences or distractions (difficulties in hearing or understanding what is being said directly);
– Difficulty in organizing sequential tasks;
– Poor time management;
– Difficulty in keeping personal items (you often lose your belongings);
– Reluctance to perform tasks that involve continued mental effort;
– Distraction with stimuli outside the environment;
Hyperactive and/or impulsive behaviors:
– Stirs when sitting (shakes or taps with hands or feet);
– Runs or jumps in situations where it is not appropriate to do so;
– Stand up when supposed to be seated;
– Often on the move;
– Talking too much, interrupting others;
– Answer questions before they are finished;
– Difficulties in waiting for own turn;
Some children exhibit only one type of behavior (inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity), while most exhibit a mixture of both types of behavior.
It is important to stress that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between inattention or hyperactivity behavior and so-called normal behavior. After all, all children exhibit the behaviors listed above on occasion. Furthermore, the same behavior may seem excessive for one person and not for another.
Inattention or hyperactive behavior has the particularity of being more frequent and occurring in a variety of contexts, of not being expected or appropriate for the child's age, and of having a direct negative impact on the child's social and academic activities. Thus, if these behaviors only occur in one context, it means that the child learned to behave that way only in that relationship or in that place, managing, in other contexts, to maintain an age-appropriate behavior.
These symptoms can vary as the child grows. Younger children tend to have more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity, and when they go to school, around 6 years of age, the symptoms of inattention can become more visible. In adolescence, symptoms tend to decrease and may manifest themselves not only through inattention and impulsiveness, but also through restlessness or restless movements (moving constantly). These inattention, impulsive, and restless behaviors can persist into adulthood.
Sometimes ADHD doesn't come alone...
Some studies suggest that 2/3 of children with ADHD meet criteria for another mental disorder, such as:
– Oppositional Defiant Disorder;
– Disturbance of behavior;
– Anxiety Disorder;
– Mood Disorder (Depression);
In addition, many children with ADHD have difficulties such as:
– Learning difficulties;
– Difficulties in socializing and interacting with other children;
– Psychosocial adjustment problems;
– Difficulty in complying with rules and objectives.
What to do?
Intervention in children with ADHD can be done at several levels, namely at the pharmacological level, at the psychotherapeutic level and at the psychosocial level. Possibly, the intervention will be more appropriate and effective if it involves different levels. Pharmacological intervention can be essential in more severe cases. On the other hand, psychotherapeutic intervention can help children to develop self-control and learn to deal with their feelings. And finally, psychosocial intervention helps parents and teachers understand how they can help the child.
To learn more about intervention in children with ADHD read our article: Hyperactivity and Attention Deficit – How to intervene?
The first step always involves understanding what is happening to the child, recognizing what their abilities and strengths are, and looking for information and resources to help them deal with these behaviours and symptoms. With small gradual changes over time the child can learn to regulate their behavior and maintain concentration.