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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a biological, brain-based condition which is caused by a slight difference in the fine-tuning of a normal brain. Today, it is thought to be due to an imbalance in the brain's neurotransmitter chemicals, noradrenalin and dopamine.

ADHD seems to involve impaired neurotransmitter function within the four regions of the brain: the frontal cortex, the limbic system, the basal ganglia and the reticular activating system (RAS). These four regions interact with each other, so any deficiency could lead to the cognitive behavioral problems which characterize ADHD.

ADHD Symptoms

Since 1994, ADD (attention deficit disorder) has been known as ADHD and has been broken down into three subtypes: the inattentive type, the hyperactive / impulsive type, and the combined type. They are each characterized by slightly different behaviors:

Inattentive Type

  • Inability to pay attention to details resulting in careless errors
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Dislike of tasks requiring mental effort
  • Listening problems
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Organizational problems
  • Forgetfulness
  • Tendency to lose things
  • Distractibility

Hyperactive / Impulsive Type

  • Fidgety
  • Difficulty remaining seated
  • Inability to play quietly
  • Excessive running / climbing
  • Excessive talking
  • Problems with interrupting in conversations or intruding
  • Blurting out answers in class
  • Difficulty waiting in line

To receive a diagnosis of ADHD, a combination of symptoms from the above lists has to be present before the age of seven. They must persist for at least six months, causing impaired function in at least two settings such as home, school or work.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

If you suspect ADHD, you should visit your primary care physician. As yet, there is no test that can accurately determine the condition, so the doctor will use a variety of methods to evaluate the patient. Your doctor will perform a physical examination to rule out other underlying conditions, and you will be asked many questions about the patient's development and behavior as well as the family health history. If no comorbid conditions like depression, anxiety, learning disorders or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are suspected, then the doctor will begin treatment. If he or she has further concerns, the patient will be referred to a neurologist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

ADHD Treatments

There is no cure for ADHD, but there are a variety of ways to manage the condition. Your doctor will work with you to create a long-term individualized plan which will aim to help the patient control his / her behavior and assist the family in creating an environment for success.

A combination of medication and behavioral therapy has proven successful in treating the symptoms of ADHD in children and adults. Medications such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall work to repair the imbalance of neurotransmitter chemicals leading to better executive functions. Behavioral strategies like setting goals and using rewards help contribute to the successful management of ADHD symptoms.

Living with ADHD

Daily life with ADHD can be a challenge, not only for the patient but for everyone in the family. Try instigating the following helpful strategies:

  • Develop a daily routine and stick to it.
  • Put frequently used items away in the same place.
  • Keep a calendar where you can see it.
  • Write down appointments immediately.
  • Use a reward system.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Limit choices.
  • Discover and develop a talent.

One out of the many misunderstood ADHD facts is that most children with ADHD have some areas in which paying attention is not a problem; in fact, they actually hyper-focus on certain activities. Many are artistic or musical; others flourish at engineering or construction. Building on these gifts is vital for continuing good self-esteem. By incorporating organizational techniques and other accommodations into their daily lives and by playing to their strengths, most ADDers have gone on to have rich and fulfilling lives.

By Jane Comyns

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