Sarah Turner, Ph.D.

    Psychotherapy for Individuals, Couples, Families & Children

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder


ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for the child's age and development.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors   

ADHD affects school performance and relationships with others. Parents of children with ADHD are often exhausted and frustrated.

Scientific studies, using advanced neuroimaging techniques of brain structure and function, show that the brains of children with ADHD are different from those of other children. These children handle neurotransmitters (including dopamine, serotonin, and adrenalin) differently from their peers.

ADHD is often genetic. Whatever the specific cause may be, it seems to be set in motion early in life as the brain is developing.

Depression, sleep deprivation, learning disabilities, tic disorders, and behavior problems may be confused with, or appear along with, ADHD. Every child suspected of having ADHD deserves a careful evaluation to sort out exactly what is contributing to the concerning behaviors.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood, affecting an estimated 3 - 5% of school aged children. It is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls.

Most children with ADHD also have at least one other developmental or behavioral problem.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) divides the symptoms of ADHD into those of inattentiveness and those of hyperactivity/impulsivity.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, children should have at least 6 attention symptoms or 6 activity/impulsivity symptoms -- to a degree beyond what would be expected for children their age.

The symptoms must be present for at least 6 months, observable in 2 or more settings, and not caused by another problem. The symptoms must be severe enough to cause significant difficulties. Some symptoms must be present before age 7.

Older children who still have symptoms, but no longer meet the full definition, have ADHD in partial remission.

Some children with ADHD primarily have the Inattentive Type, some the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and some the Combined Type. Those with the Inattentive type are less disruptive and are easier to miss being diagnosed with ADHD.

Inattention symptoms:

1.      Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork

2.      Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play

3.      Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly

4.      Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace

5.      Difficulty organizing tasks and activities

6.      Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork)

7.      Often loses toys, assignments, pencils, books, or tools needed for tasks or activities

8.      Easily distracted

9.      Often forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactivity symptoms:

1.      Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat

2.      Leaves seat when remaining seated is expected

3.      Runs about or climbs in inappropriate situations

4.      Difficulty playing quietly

5.      Often "on the go", acts as if "driven by a motor", talks excessively

Impulsivity symptoms:

1.      Blurts out answers before questions have been completed

2.      Difficulty awaiting turn

      3.   Interrupts or intrudes on others (butts into conversations or games) 

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