ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a condition where you have trouble paying attention or controlling your behavior. People with ADHD have differences in their brain development and brain activity. It is usually diagnosed in childhood—it is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting children—and it generally continues into adulthood with hyperactivity improving in some cases. It’s often identified in elementary-age children who have trouble sitting still at school or focusing on their homework.
It’s also diagnosed in adults. Diagnosing ADHD became more common in the 1990s, so some people are now diagnosed as adults after having symptoms that were overlooked or ignored when they were children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of ADHD based on which symptoms of ADHD are most prominent.
People with this type of ADHD struggle with organization, completing tasks and paying attention to things they don’t find interesting. They get distracted easily, daydream and may lose things. In the past, this type of ADHD was sometimes called attention deficit disorder (ADD). Adults in this category may have trouble keeping appointments or paying bills.
People with this type of ADHD are restless, easily bored and struggle to sit still. They may want to move around during meals. They may fidget, talk a lot, interrupt or speak at inappropriate times. It’s hard for them to wait for their turn. They may not be able to delay gratification. Adults may feel restless, talk too much or lose patience and take over something another person is doing.
People with combined ADHD have symptoms of both types, with neither type outweighing the other.
Some experts think “attention deficit” should be called “attention dysregulation” because people with this condition have enough attention and can sometimes hyper focus on topics and tasks that interest them but lose focus in other situations.
People with ADHD may forget or lose things, struggle to sit still or talk too much. Without treatment, it can be difficult for them to succeed at school or work. It’s not clear what causes ADHD, but genetics plays a role.
Trained health care professionals can diagnose ADHD in children and adults by evaluating symptoms and performing tests. Treatment can include medication, counseling and professional support.
By sticking to routines, making lists, following treatment plans and learning about ADHD, parents can support their children and adults can better manage their symptoms.