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What is ADHD?

In today’s fast paced world of video games and high speed internet it seems as though everyone is having trouble paying attention to anything for more than a split second. But for some kids this restlessness actually indicates a mental health problem. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a term used to describe patterns of behaviour that appear most often in school-aged children but can sometimes linger in to adulthood. Children with these disorders are inattentive, overly impulsive and, in the case of ADHD, hyperactive. They have difficulty sitting still, attending to one thing for a long period of time, and may seem overactive. It is hard for these children to control their behaviour and/or pay attention. They sometimes get into trouble at school as they can’t easily sit still or focus on what’s being taught. For some people it’s the attentional deficit that predominates (ADD) and for others it’s the hyperactivity-impulsivity that predominates. For many it is a combination of both the inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

This disorder interferes with the learning process because it reduces the child’s ability to pay attention. It is important to understand that ADHD is not a learning disability, a condition that affects the child’s ability to learn, but it may be present in addition to a learning disability.

How common is it?

ADHD is the most common mental health problem that affects children. Approximately 3-5% of children around the world have ADHD. This means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD. Also approximately 8-10% of males and 3-4 % of females under the age of 18 years have ADHD.

The Cause of ADHD

Unfortunately, the specifics of this disorder are unknown but ADHD is likely a problem related to the functioning of circuits within the brain. Like other psychiatric disorders, there maybe a chemical changes in the brain that correspond to this. ADHD has nothing to do with how smart or intelligent you are. It’s the brains ability to filter all the outside stimuli and internal thoughts and select and stay focused on the appropriate thing that’s compromised.

Symptoms of ADHD

All children can be restless, fidgety or daydream the time away. But when the child’s hyperactivity, distractibility, poor concentration, or impulsivity begin to significantly affect performance in school, relationships with other children, or behaviour at home, ADHD may be suspected. But because the symptoms vary so much across settings, ADHD is not easy to diagnose. This is especially true when distraction is the biggest symptom.

Other common symptoms are:

Symptoms of ADHD will appear over the course of many months, often with the symptoms of impulsiveness and hyperactivity preceeding those of inattention, which may not emerge for a year or more.

The behaviours must appear early in life, before age 7, and continue for at least 6 months. Above all, the behaviours must create a real difficulty in at least two areas of a child’s life, at school, on the playground, at home, in the community, or in social settings.


ADHD may be suspected by a parent or caregiver or may go unnoticed until the child runs into problems at school. Given that ADHD tends to effect functioning in school, sometimes the teacher is the first to recognize that a child is hyperactive or inattentive and may point it out to the parents and/or consult with the school psychologist. If your child’s teacher has any concern, you may want to speak with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.

With the right kind of help, most children with ADHD overcome their challenges, and their emotional problems usually disappear. They do better at school, improve their relationships with family and friends, and will be more likely to achieve their full potential. With help from family, school and other professional people, children with ADHD have more than a good chance to grow up to be healthy, happy and productive adults.

Adult ADHD

Adults can also suffer from ADHD. It’s often that when their child is being assessed for symptoms of ADHD that a parent sometimes notices that “those symptoms sound just like me” or some other adult in the family. In adults, it’s often the distraction and inattention (ADD) that lingers, and they may be thought of as visionary dreamers with great ideas but all over the place, with difficulty sticking to one thing. They may be in careers that fall below their potential or can be very successful in their careers despite being scattered at times. Often in adults, it is the inattention that persists even though they outgrow some of the hyperactivity. The good news is that with the right kind of help adults can improve functioning at work and home and improve their relationships and quality of life. Often adults wish they had known about their ADHD earlier in their lives as it can explain some things in their past and make for a happier and more satisfying future.

More information

For further information about ADHD, contact a community organization, health care provider or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.

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