What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
ADHD is a condition that affects how the brain grows and develops. It’s thought that ADHD affects the parts of the brain that help us problem-solve, control our impulses, and plan ahead.
Someone with ADHD might struggle to concentrate and be easily distracted. Or they might fidget a lot, find it hard to sit still, and be hyperactive. These are both different types of ADHD. More than half of people with ADHD will have symptoms of both types.
ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD. It’s estimated that around five per cent of children and four per cent of adults have ADHD. And boys are more likely to have it than girls.
What are the signs of ADHD?
The main symptoms of ADHD are:
- finding it hard to focus or concentrate
- being easily distracted
- losing or forgetting things
- a short attention span and getting bored quickly
- acting impulsively or recklessly
- difficulty with listening and following instructions
Not everyone with ADHD will have all of these symptoms. Some people might struggle to concentrate, but they might not show signs of hyperactivity. Others might have both kinds of symptoms.
Age can also affect ADHD symptoms – young children are more likely to be hyperactive. As they grow older, they might become more inattentive. Signs of ADHD also tend to be more subtle in adults.
If a child struggles to concentrate, this doesn’t always mean they have ADHD. But speak to your child’s teacher or a GP if symptoms like this are affecting their daily life. Many people with ADHD also have another mental health condition, such as anxiety, which can cause similar symptoms.
What support do people with ADHD need?
ADHD has no cure, but there are several ways to help manage the symptoms. The two main therapies to treat ADHD are behavioural therapy and medicines.
Behavioural therapy is sometimes called ‘parent training’ because both parent and child take part. Behavioural therapy aims to reduce disruptive behaviour in young children by helping them control their emotions.
As children grow into teenagers, they might need some extra support to develop their confidence and raise awareness of risk-taking activities. Stress and anxiety can be hard to manage if you have ADHD, and some people with ADHD find social settings hard to deal with. Their symptoms can make it hard to form and keep friendships. As a parent or carer, talking about these issues can help your teenager deal with them and feel supported.
Adults with ADHD can have cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to develop strategies that manage their emotions and help them deal with daily tasks better. CBT is a type of talking therapy that aims to stop negative thinking and behaviours.
Medications are sometimes an option for older children and adults. They can be used to control symptoms, in combination with behavioural therapy. ADHD in adults is often treated with a type of medication called stimulants, which can improve focus and reduce impulsiveness.
How can you help someone you love with ADHD?
If you have a loved one with ADHD, one of the most important things you can do is support them. Knowing the symptoms of ADHD and how they might affect their daily life is a good start.
Here are some tips on how to support someone you love with ADHD.
- If your child has ADHD, you can help them manage their behaviour by learning how to interact with them differently. For example, through behaviour training, you can learn how to respond to challenging behaviours and how to reward positive ones.
- If your child has ADHD, setting rules and boundaries can be really helpful. And routines can provide structure.
- Planners, checklists, organisers, and rewards charts may help your loved one focus and remember things.
- Living a healthy lifestyle can make ADHD symptoms easier to manage for children. Try to limit screen time and encourage a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- ADHD can also affect sleep, and sleep is important because it affects how we cope with daily life and deal with stress. Try to make sure you and your loved one are getting enough rest.
- Regular exercise is also recommended for people with ADHD, because it can improve mood and sleep.
- It might help to think about how ADHD affects you and your family, and develop new ways to understand each other. Encourage your loved ones to talk about how they feel in ways that work for them, and keep talking to them.
And don’t forget to look after yourself too. If your loved one is finding things difficult, or their behaviour is challenging, things can feel tough. But there are lots of support groups for people with ADHD, as well as resources for those looking after them. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone, and neither is your loved one.