Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobiological disorder that can be noticed in the preschool or early grades of school. ADHD affects between 5-12% of the population or about 1 or 2 students in every classroom.
ADHD is a life-long condition that changes and evolves as a person ages. Adults frequently experience a decrease in the hyperactivity and impulsivity elements, but the inattention persists.
ADHD runs in families and has a genetic basis. Children with ADHD are 2 to 8 times more likely to have a sibling with ADHD or a parent with ADHD.
ADHD is a medical diagnosis that is organized along two symptom clusters. They are:
Hyperactivity-impulsive: difficulty regulating one’s activity level – for example constant movement in chair, getting up and down from chair, climbing, or running around when others are seated; also may manifest as talking so much that others can’t get a turn in. Impulsivity: difficulty inhibiting behaviour – for example acting quickly without thinking.
Inattention: difficulty attending to the task at hand – for example frequent daydreaming, lost in another world or easily sidetracked by what’s going on around.
Based on these two clusters of symptoms mentioned, there are three subtypes of ADHD:
- Predominantly hyperactive subtype
- Predominantly inattentive subtype (sometimes called ADD)
- Combined subtype (with both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms)
Research has shown that school problems tend to be associated with the combined and inattentive subtypes. Students with these two subtypes tend to struggle more academically, and are more likely to fail a grade or receive lower grades than their non-ADHD classmates. By contrast, children with the predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive subtype may do well academically, but often experience disruptive and oppositional behaviours. For children who have combined subtype both academic and behavioural problems are an issue.
Individuals with ADHD may have many positive traits that are directly tied to their active, impulsive minds such as:
Creativity – People with ADD excel at thinking outside of the box, brainstorming, and finding creative solutions to problems. Because of their flexible way of thinking about things, they tend to be more open-minded, independent, and ready to improvise.
Enthusiasm and spontaneity – People with ADD are free spirits with lively minds—qualities that makes for good company and engrossing conversation. Their enthusiasm and spontaneous approach to life can be infectious.
A quick mind – People with ADD have the ability to think on their feet, quickly absorb new information (as long as it’s interesting), and multitask with ease. Their rapid-fire minds thrive on stimulation. They adapt well to change and are great in a crisis.
High energy level – People with ADD have loads of energy. When their attention is captured by something that interests them, they can have virtually unlimited stamina and drive.
- Not being able to sit still
- Does not appear to listen when spoken to
- Talking nonstop
- Difficulty doing quiet tasks (e.g. reading)
- Running place to place
- Blurting things out at inappropriate times
- Difficulty waiting for their turn or standing in line
- Often fails to pay close attention to details
- Makes careless mistakes in work, activities or schoolwork
- Does not appear to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow through with instructions and fails to complete chores, school work or duties in the workplace
- Difficulty staying organized
- Often dislikes or avoids engaging in tasks that require a sustained mental effort (e.g. schoolwork or homework)
- Forgetful in daily activities
- Often loses things that are needed for tasks or activities (e.g. pencils, books, toys, school assignments)
ADHD looks different in girls. Symptoms in girls are less noticeable than in boys. As a result, more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD (about 3:1). However, both girls and boys with ADHD experience impairments with social skills and academics.
Treatments and Therapies:
Treatment for ADHD does not just entail taking medication, as some would assume. Taking action to provide the individual with nutritious meals, exercise and play are ways in which a child can receive a balanced treatment plan that can encourage them to perform better at school, as well as improve their relationships with others, along with decreasing frustration and stress.
Medication. In terms of medication, stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are often prescribed for ADD; however, not every child will react the same way towards them. As well, it may be most effective when used in combination with other treatments that address behavioural and emotional issues.
The Home. Treatment for ADHD starts at home, where the child’s guardian or parent has a strong influence over their child’s treatment. Exercising, eating a healthy diet and making smart daily choices are ways families can help their child better manage symptoms of ADHD. Exercise has been found to be one of the most effective and perhaps easiest ways to reduce symptoms of ADHD. Physical activity quickly increases the brain’s serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine levels – all of which affect attention and focus. Some activities that require paying close attention to body movements are martial arts, skateboarding, dance and gymnastics which are all particularly good for children who have ADHD.
Sleep. Regular quality sleep can also lead to increased improvements in the symptoms of ADHD, although many children face the challenge of getting a good sleep at night. Ways to help your child, in this scenario are to set regular bedtimes and enforcing them. Along with that, you can practise turning off all electronics, and limiting physical activity during the evening.
Diet. Eating healthy is another method which can help make a difference towards managing one’s ADHD. Some tips to help reduce ADHD symptoms through diet are:
- Scheduling snacks or regular meals no more than 3 hour apart
- Including a little protein and complex carbohydrates during every meal or snack
- Keep check of your child’s magnesium, iron and zinc levels
- Adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your child’s diet
Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada:
East Metro Youth Services:
Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario:
The ADHD Clinic: