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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms, Treatment Options, and Resources


The Basics of ADHD

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder that makes it difficult for affected individuals to maintain attention on what is happening around them. Individuals with ADHD often have trouble maintaining attention in school, focusing on professional assignments, or carrying out activities that require a great deal of concentration. ADHD can also cause impulsivity and a high level of activity that is out of place for an individual’s environment. For example, ADHD may cause children to fidget when they are supposed to be working on school assignments.

What Causes ADHD?

Researchers do not know the exact cause of ADHD, although they suspect an individual’s genetic background plays a role. According to the American Psychiatric Association, children may also have a higher risk of developing ADHD if they have a brain injury, were born prematurely, or their mothers engaged in high-risk behaviors during pregnancy. Examples of high-risk behaviors include drinking alcohol and using tobacco products.

ADHD Statistics

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that – as of 2017 – 2.5% of adults and 8.4% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD. Furthermore, based on data published by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a diagnosis of ADHD is more common in older children, perhaps because older children have had more time to develop symptoms and seek treatment than younger children. In 2015-2016, the overall prevalence of ADHD was 13.5% in children between the ages of 12 to 17 but only 7.7% in children between the ages of four and 11.

The symptoms of ADHD typically begin to appear between the ages of three and six, and the average age of ADHD diagnosis in children is seven years old, according to the A.D.D. Resource Center. Furthermore, an ADHD diagnosis is much more common in boys than girls, as boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder affects children of all races and ethnicities, but it is more common in Caucasian and African-American children than it is in Latino children.

Signs and Symptoms

No two individuals have the exact same signs and symptoms of ADHD, as the disorder can affect those afflicted in many different ways. Difficulty paying attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity are the most common signs and symptoms displayed by individuals who have ADHD.

Difficulty Paying Attention

  • Avoiding complex tasks that require intense focus
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Inability to manage time effectively
  • Procrastination
  • Failed attempts at multitasking
  • Difficulty switching from one task to another
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Inability to stay organized
  • Misplacing paperwork and other items required to complete school assignments or professional projects

Impulsive Behavior

  • Interrupting people or speaking out of turn
  • Making decisions without considering the consequences
  • Inability to tolerate stress
  • Speeding, running red lights, and committing other traffic infractions
  • Frequent job changes
  • Difficulty taking turns when playing games or similar activities


  • Fidgeting
  • Squirming
  • Inability to remain seated when required
  • Difficulty engaging in quiet activities
  • Excessive talking
  • Excessive physical activity, such as climbing or running

Individuals or their loved ones who are experiencing these signs and symptoms should consider speaking to a medical professional.

Treatment for ADHD

The primary treatment options for ADHD are medications, educational programs, and behavioral therapy. Many treatment plans include more than one treatment method to control the symptoms of ADHD and help individuals with the disorder excel in school or at work. Because ADHD causes a variety of signs and symptoms, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for the disorder. Instead, an individual with ADHD should work with a qualified professional to develop a customized treatment plan.


Stimulant Medications

Stimulants are typically prescribed to control symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention. These medications are classified as short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting based on the amount of time they remain in the individual’s body. Short-acting stimulants leave the body quickly, so they are usually taken two or three times per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Long-acting stimulants remain in the body much longer, so they only need to be taken once per day.

Common stimulants to treat ADHD:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Focalin
  • Ritalin
  • Vyvanse

Although stimulants are commonly used to treat ADHD, they are not suitable for everyone. Individuals with any of the following health conditions should not take stimulants:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Glaucoma
  • Allergies to stimulant medications or their ingredients
  • History of psychosis
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • High blood pressure
  • History of substance abuse
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

Potential side effects of stimulant medications include sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, stunted growth, mood changes, tics, irritability, stomachaches, and headaches, reports Dr. Roy Boorady of the Child Mind Institute. An individual who experiences these side effects may have to take a smaller dose of the medication, try a different form of the medication, or stop taking the medication completely.

Non-Stimulant Medications

Non-stimulant medications are often prescribed for individuals who have ADHD with a co-occurring mental health disorder. For example, non-stimulant medications can be used to treat both ADHD and Tourette syndrome. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved atomoxetine, guanfacine, and clonidine to treat ADHD in some individuals.

Atomoxetine, sold under the brand name Strattera, is typically taken once or twice per day. Guanfacine is available in both short-acting and long-acting forms. The short-acting form is taken two to three times per day, while the long-acting version is taken once per day. Clonidine is available in a long-acting form, but the medication is taken two to three times per day. For individuals who have difficulty swallowing pills, the clonidine film patch is an option. The patch is applied directly to the skin approximately once per week, eliminating the need to swallow a pill or remember a daily medication.

Like stimulants, non-stimulant ADHD medications do have the potential to produce undesirable side effects. The following side effects are associated with these medications:

  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue


Educational programs can help children, adolescents, and parents develop the knowledge and skills they need to recognize and cope with the signs and symptoms of ADHD. Some programs are delivered in a school setting, while others take place in counseling offices or an individual’s home environment.

Parental training is often recommended for the parents of young children diagnosed with ADHD since they tend to experience more side effects from ADHD medication than older children. Parents also serve as role models for their children, so training is helpful in teaching parents how to assist their children with the development of coping skills and strategies for managing ADHD symptoms.

School-based interventions are designed to help children with ADHD avoid undesirable behaviors. Teachers and other education professionals model appropriate behavior and provide praise whenever this type of behavior occurs. Experts from the U.S. Department of Education advise educators to give approval as soon as the desirable behavior occurs, be consistent with praise, and vary statements of praise to ensure that such statements do not lose their value.

Behavioral Therapy

The goal of behavioral therapy is to reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors by providing individuals with ADHD the tools they need to effectively manage their symptoms. Major components of behavioral therapy include developing routines, offering positive attention, and structuring an individual’s time appropriately.

Setting practical goals is one of the most important aspects of behavioral therapy. If a goal is not realistic, it is unlikely that an individual with ADHD will achieve it, leading to frustration and hurt feelings. Goals should also be age-appropriate and well-matched to the individual’s symptoms. For example, if a child continually interrupts others, the first goal might be to interrupt no more than three times in one day. Children who struggle to get ready for school in the morning could have goals like waking up on time or being dressed in time for breakfast.

Additional Resources

Many government agencies and nonprofit organizations offer information and resources for individuals struggling with ADHD. Individuals and their loved ones who have concerns about ADHD should schedule an appointment with their physician to learn about the benefits of available treatment options. Furthermore, visit one of these resources for information on ADHD and treatment options:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers statistical data on ADHD.
  • MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, provides an overview of ADHD and links to additional information.
  • The U.S. Food & Drug Administration offers information on the three types of ADHD and the treatment options available for this disorder.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides links to organizations, such as the Attention Deficit Disorder Association and the Learning Disorders Association of America, making it easier to find local support.
  • The National Human Genome Research Institute discusses the role of genes in the development of ADHD.