The ADHD symptoms vary per person
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has many different symptoms. The symptoms may also vary from person to person. This is because there are three ADHD subtypes: the predominantly inattentive type (also known as attention-deficit disorder or ADD), the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type and the combined type. In addition, ADHD affects young children far differently than it does adults.
General characteristics of ADHD in children
The dominant symptom of the first type of ADHD (ADD) is inattention. Children with this form of ADHD are therefore described as inattentive. Children with the inattentive type of ADHD are often dreamy and withdrawn. Withdrawn children can go unnoticed because their behaviour is not disruptive. This subtype is more common in girls than boys. The typical symptoms of the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD are hyperactivity and impulsivity. Children with this type of ADHD have difficulty sitting still and are often ‘on the go’. This subtype is especially common in children under seven years of age. The combined type of ADHD means that a child has symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity as well as impulsivity. The combined type is the most common type of ADHD, and is more common in boys than in girls.
General characteristics of ADHD in adults
Adults with ADHD mainly have trouble concentrating and have poor organisational skills. Hyperactivity seems to be less of a problem. This is because adults express themselves differently than children do. In addition, adults often develop coping strategies to overcome challenges associated with ADHD. For example, excessive sporting activities or sleeping can be a way in which they fight off inner unrest.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is short for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s an attention dysfunction disorder, with or without hyperactivity. ADHD is what we call an externalising psychological disorder. This, amongst other things, means that the behaviour of ADHD patients is disruptive and may negatively affect their outside world, which in turn can put them on a collision course with parents, teachers or classmates.
What causes ADHD?
The exactly cause of ADHD is still unknown and studies are constantly conducted to gain more understanding of the disorder. The findings of these studies suggest a correlation between various factors:
- Biological factors, including genetics
- Environmental factors
- Personality traits
ADHD may, in part, have a biological basis. Recent research suggests that people with ADHD or ADD have a neurobiological imbalance in the brain. It’s likely that various areas in the brain have difficulty ‘communicating’ with each other. Communication in the brain takes place via so-called neurotransmitters. Studies suggest that low levels of certain neurotransmitters (dopamine and noradrenaline) in the prefrontal cortex, the front-most portion of the brain, may be associated with the symptoms that manifest in patients with ADHD. This area in the brain regulates many executive activities that are impaired in patients with ADHD, including planning and managing behaviour, response inhibition and attention.
Research also shows that genetics account for 70% of the risk of ADHD. This means that the chances of developing ADHD are much greater when ADHD runs in the family. In fact, children of a parent with ADHD are two to eight times more likely to have the disorder.
Environmental factors can influence the severity of ADHD. Examples of environmental factors include derailment in the family situation, tension between parents and bullying.
Personality traits can also make the symptoms of ADHD worse. A person can be fidgety, temperamental, impulsive or dreamy by nature.
Nutrition (during pregnancy)
Scientific research has shown a correlation between diet and ADHD. The Dutch Pelsser RED Centre, an independent research institute specialised in research on the effects of foods on child psychiatric complaints, carried out multiple studies on children with ADHD. They found that in 40% of children with ADHD the behavioural complaints disappeared after following a Restricted Elimination Diet (RED). The symptoms of ADHD returned once the children went back to their normal eating habits.
Food-related risk factors before birth may also contribute to the development of ADHD, including exposure to nicotine, alcohol, certain medications (antidepressants) and toxins such as mercury and lead.
ADHD symptoms in detail: children
The section below highlights a number of the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th edition) criteria used by medical doctors to diagnose ADHD or ADD. DSM is an international classification system for mental disorders. According to the DSM-IV classification system, the appropriate subtype of ADHD should be indicated based on the presence of at least six defining features for the last six months.`~
Signs of inattentive ADHD (ADD)
- Doesn’t seems to listen when spoken to
- Has trouble getting organised
- Shifts from task to task without finishing anything
- Is easily distracted
- Has a short memory
- Keeps losing or misplacing things
- Avoids tasks that require sustained attention (e.g. homework).
Signs of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
- Fidgeting with hands and feet, not being able to sit still
- Running from place to place, constantly jumping or climbing in inappropriate places
- Trouble doing quiet tasks or relaxing activities
- Non-stop talking
- Trouble waiting for a turn
- Blurting out comments or speaking out of turn
- Not having patience, interrupting other people
Children with the combined type of ADHD have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity as well as impulsivity.
ADHD symptoms in detail: adults
Adults with ADHD often have difficulty staying focused and attending to daily tasks. Most adults also have difficulty with planning and organising.
Other symptoms of ADHD in adults include:
- Chaotic and restless behaviour
- Chronic lateness
- Talking excessively and going into ‘overdrive’
- Impulsive in making new contacts
- Getting bored easily and trouble finishing projects (frequent job changes)
- Unable to deal with authority
- Reckless spending
- Easily frustrated
The positive side of adult ADHD
ADHD also has positive sides. For example, adults with ADHD are good at making connections. Their thoughts are often racing and when they think about something, they immediately think of related thoughts and subjects. This encourages the ability to freely associate and make creative, novel connections.
No single treatment for ADHD is the answer for every child or adult. There are no therapies or medicines yet that cure ADHD. Custom treatment plans have to be drawn up for each individual child or adult. Roughly, there are three methods that can be used to reduce the symptoms of ADHD: food (elimination diet), medication: Medication and ADHD such as Ritalin, and behavioural therapy aimed at turning around negative behaviour.
Sources: adhd.nl, steunpuntadhd.nl, thuisarts.nl, hersenstichting.nl, nationaalkompas.nl, perspectief.net, adhdenvoeding.nl, nji.nl, nieuwzijds.nl.
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Last updated on October 12, 2016.