Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

A behavioural disorder in which a child consistently has a high level of activity and/or difficulty attending to tasks

  • Usually develops in early childhood
  • More common in boys
  • Often runs in families
  • Lifestyle is not a significant factor

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also sometimes known as hyperkinetic disorder, is a condition that affects an estimated 3–9 per cent of children in the UK. The disorder, which is more common in boys, should not be confused with the normal boisterous conduct of a healthy child. Children with ADHD consistently show abnormal patterns of behaviour over a period of time. An affected child is likely to be restless, unable to sit still for more than a few moments, inattentive, and impulsive.

The causes of ADHD are not fully understood. However, the disorder often runs in families, which suggests that genetic factors may be involved. ADHD is not, as popularly believed, a result of poor parenting or abuse.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of ADHD develop in early childhood, usually between the ages of 3 and 7, and may include:

  • Inability to finish tasks.

  • Short attention span and inability to concentrate in class.

  • Difficulty following instructions.

  • Tendency to talk excessively and frequently interrupt others.

  • Difficulty waiting or taking turns.

  • Inability to play quietly alone.

  • Physical impulsiveness.

Children with ADHD may have difficulty forming friendships. Self-esteem is often low because an affected child is frequently scolded and criticized.

What might be done?

The doctor will probably refer a child with suspected ADHD to a child psychiatry team. The diagnosis is normally made following discussion with parents and observation of the child. However, ADHD is often difficult to diagnose in preschool children. Parents have a key role in their child’s treatment and are usually given training in techniques that help to improve the child’s behaviour. These techniques are based on giving praise for good behaviour rather than criticism for inappropriate conduct. An affected child may also benefit from structured teaching in small groups.

For some children, the doctor may prescribe drugs that help to improve concentration and reduce disruptive behaviour (see Central nervous system stimulant drugs).

In most affected children, the disorder continues throughout adolescence, although the behavioural problems may become less severe in older children. A small proportion of those with ADHD later develop conduct disorder, in which a child consistently displays antisocial and unruly behaviour.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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