Much as different but related disorders are now under the umbrella of the autism spectrum, ADD and ADHD are no longer considered distinct disorders. Professionals now define these as one disorder called ADHD with three subtypes:
- Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive
- Primarily Inattentive
Those who may have received an ADD diagnosis in the past are now considered to have the Primary Inattentive subtype of ADHD. The distinguishing characteristic with these patients is that they do not have hyperactive symptoms as is typically associated with ADHD.
Those previously diagnosed with ADHD now receive a diagnosis of Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. Some patients may show inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, resulting in a diagnosis of combination ADHD.
ADHD affects important cognitive functions such as memory and concentration. In the U.S., 11 percent of children have a form of ADHD, while 4.4 percent of adults do.
There are a number of misconceptions about ADHD out there. One is that it affects only children. Many patients do not have any symptoms until well into adulthood. There is also a misconception that the disorder is overdiagnosed. Many professionals agree that the uptick in diagnoses relates to heightened awareness and understanding of the disorder.
There is also the stigma of ADHD to consider. No one should feel stigmatized by receiving a diagnosis. The symptoms of ADHD are real and life-changing, and those who receive treatment have a better chance of improving their quality of life.
ADHD Symptoms in Adults
It is important to remember that symptoms can vary from patient to patient. That being said, the following are some of the symptoms that can present in adult ADHD:
Adult Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD
- An inability to focus on details at school or work
- Short attention span, even when engaging in favorite activities
- A hard time listening
- Faulty executive functioning
- An aversion to anything that requires concentration
- An inability to follow basic instructions
- Being constantly distracted and zoning out
Symptoms of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD
- Constant fidgeting
- Feelings of restlessness
- An inability to relax
- Rapid speech
- Impulsive decision making
- An inability to delay gratification
Adults with combination ADHD may have symptoms from each of these lists. As with all mental health disorders, diagnosis requires that the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily life. According to the DSM, adults also need to show symptoms for at least six months.
ADHD Symptoms in Children
While the symptoms in childhood ADHD are similar to the ones in adult ADHD, they present in very different ways due to the fact that children are still developing emotionally and mentally. Parents and caregivers should look for the following in children if they are concerned about ADHD.
Kids with Inattentive ADHD:
- Make homework mistakes in areas where they actually know the correct answer
- Jump from toy to toy or game to game
- Zone out on adults
- Avoid activities that require being still
- Lose everyday items (coat, phone, etc.)
Kids with Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD:
- Get up during class when they are not supposed to
- Cannot sit still during lectures
- Are inappropriately loud
- Climb on things or have excessive energy
- Talk rapidly and interrupt others
Can You Test for ADHD?
Testing for ADHD is a complex process, unlike some of the online quizzes that would have you believe it is a matter of answering a few questions. Only a mental health professional can assess a patient and give a diagnosis. This involves a number of steps. Adults may be asked to fill out surveys, while parents and caregivers would answer similar surveys for children. Therapists may also engage in play with children or observe their behaviors in order to assess them. Finally, therapists will interview patients and, in the case of children, their parents.
There is no known cure for this disorder. There are, however, many treatments that can ameliorate symptoms. These can include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, or some combination thereof.
Medication for ADHD
It confuses many, but stimulants actually work effectively to calm the symptoms of ADHD and are successful in 80 percent of childhood cases. There are non-stimulant alternatives, as well. They do not work as quickly, but may be better solutions in the long term.
Patients can also use behavioral therapy techniques to create patterns of positive behaviors that replace disruptive ones. A therapist will work closely with a patient to identify triggers and reactions, then develop a system of response that works better for the individual. In childhood cases, the parents may need to learn coping mechanisms as well.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Adults and children with ADHD can benefit from making lifestyle changes, including:
- Maintaining organized daily routines
- Limiting distractions in work/school settings
- Eating healthy foods
- Getting regular exercise
- Getting enough sleep