Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioral disorder that causes children and adults to display impulsive behaviors, experience difficulty focusing, and symptoms of restlessness. A condition that is closely related to ADHD is attention-deficit disorder, also known as ADD. While ADD is no longer a recognized diagnosis by the Fifth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this diagnosis once involved similar mental and emotional symptoms, with fewer physical symptoms such as restlessness and increased states of arousal.
Individuals living with ADHD experience a range of symptoms, most of which vary from person to person and change based on age. In this article, you’ll learn about common symptoms of ADHA as well as medical and non-medical treatment options.
ADHD includes a range of symptoms that can significantly impact a child’s or adult’s environmental engagement and performance in their functional activities. These symptoms include:
- Inattention to detail.
- Difficulty sustaining attention for prolonged periods.
- Impaired ability to follow instructions or fully complete tasks.
- Disorganization in task completion, environments.
- Difficulty engaging in quiet, sedentary tasks.
- Frequently losing necessary everyday belongings.
- Easily distracted and forgetful.
- Difficulty with reciprocal tasks, such as playing games or engaging in conversations.
- Getting up, moving around, jumping, or climbing, often during inappropriate situations.
- Speaking out of turn.
Unfortunately, such symptoms can cause children to experience difficulty performing at school, while also struggling to engage with their peers and appropriately interact with teachers and coaches. Due to children’s tendency to avoid or dislike school-related tasks, these symptoms may result in children having difficulty fulfilling academic responsibilities. Furthermore, adults with ADHD may experience negative effects, including poor job performance and attendance, along with an inability to fulfill household and personal obligations.
Medical treatment of ADHD
Medical interventions for ADHD typically focus on medications that improve a person’s ability to function. Most doctors will prescribe stimulant medications to enhance a child’s or adolescent’s ability to function in school and within their homes. This type of medication is intended to increase the levels of good chemicals in the brain and increase heart rate. This serves to increase levels of arousal and make children more likely to focus on tasks they are presented.
Popular stimulant medications include Methylphenidate, Dextroamphetamine, and Lisdexamfetamine. Due to their ability to decrease appetite and feelings of fatigue, medications in this class can also treat conditions such as narcolepsy and binge-eating disorder.
Non-stimulant medications, also known as cognition-enhancing medications, are typically the main line of treatment for adults living with ADHD. Since there are typically fewer symptoms of hyperactivity in adults who have ADHD, these medications focus on lowering blood pressure while improving overall cognition, including the ability to attend to tasks at hand, use good judgment, control impulsive urges, and focus on detail-oriented tasks.
Common medications in this class include Atomoxetine and Guanfacine, which is also used to treat high blood pressure. Another blood pressure medication called Clonidine may be used in combination with other medications to treat the symptoms of ADHD.
Some individuals also experience symptoms of depression that result from the negative impact that ADHD has on their ability to function. In these instances, doctors often recommend that adults take anti-depressant medication to assist in managing these symptoms and balancing their mood.
Allied health treatments for ADHD
Rehabilitation services, such as occupational and speech therapy, can have a large impact on a child or adult’s ability to function within their natural environments. Occupational therapy is a person-centered field that uses a variety of therapeutic activities and exercises to improve skills such as attention, focus, impulsivity, and imbalanced moods.
Occupational therapists work with patients to improve their performance in tasks such as play, school, activity tolerance, and regulating their moods and behaviors. Therapists also assist individuals who experience dysregulated sensory systems that cause sensitivities to certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and materials. Occupational therapists train children and adults in the use of strategies and activities to calm their sensory systems and soothe themselves in the presence of input that is overwhelming.
Speech therapy is another rehabilitation field that teaches children and adults to develop social skills to regulate cognitive, behavioral, and emotional symptoms of ADHD. Speech therapists also help individuals improve their language and communication skills that assist with turn-taking, task completion, writing, reading comprehension, and more. Each of these skills assists children and adults in any of their functional tasks.
An additional service that children with ADHD benefit from is behavior therapy. Behavior therapy is provided through applied behavior analysis, or ABA, to assist children in managing their behaviors within social settings, building their skills, improving their self-confidence, and enhancing other skills such as self-awareness that will assist in living with ADHD.
Home modifications for ADHD
Parents and caregivers assist children living with ADHD by making changes at home to improve their mental focus and organization. Home environments should be kept as quiet and clutter-free as possible, to minimize distractions and allow children the chance to improve their focus.
Environments where children spend a lot of time should also have resources that allow them to relieve anxiety and self-soothe throughout the day. For example, using a yoga ball as a chair helps children engage the core muscles in their torso to improve their alertness and helps them sit upright while completing tasks like reading and writing. A soothing music of choice and lightly scented candles, such as peppermint or lemon, can also enhance a child’s relaxation while improving their ability to focus.
Fortunately, children and adults both can be trained on strategies and tools that improve their organization and ability to efficiently and fully complete tasks. Daily or weekly planners help children map out their tasks for the day or week and break large tasks into smaller and more realistic steps.
ADHD is a behavioral condition that causes children and adults to display impulsive behaviors, experience difficulty focusing, and symptoms of restlessness or hyperactivity. ADHD can be medically treated through stimulants that improve focus, non-stimulant medications that enhance cognition, and anti-depressants for individuals who experience mood imbalances.
Rehabilitative services, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy, can all help children and adults build social skills, improve focus, and enhance their ability to communicate with others. These skills help individuals improve their functional performance in settings such as school, work, home, and the community.
Certain modifications within the home also help a child or adult improve their focus and increase their mental function. Tools such as planners, stress-relieving toys, and calming, distraction-free rooms all give individuals the setting they need to increase their productivity and cognitive abilities.
- Barbaresi, W.J., Colligan, R.C., Weaver, A.L., Voigt, R.G., Killian, J.M., & Katusic, S.K. (2013). Mortality, ADHD, and psychosocial adversity in adults with childhood ADHD: A prospective study. Pediatrics, 131(4), 637-644.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Treatment of ADHD. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml