Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD has three core symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. All three of these core symptoms present in different ways throughout the lifespan.

Inattention speaks to difficulty paying attention and listening when spoken to, as well as being easily distracted and forgetful in daily activities. Not following through on instructions and not finishing schoolwork, work projects or housework are also indicative of inattentiveness.

Hyperactivity is most often seen in general fidgety behaviour – not being able to sit still or sit in one place for an extended period of time. This might also present as rambunctious behaviour in inappropriate situations. Hyperactive individuals have trouble sitting quietly or entertaining themselves, and always seem to be ‘on the go’, often talking excessively. A kind of ‘inner restlessness’ might also be indicative of hyperactivity, with an inability to relax peacefully.

Another key symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. Impulsive behaviours might be blurting out answers before questions are completed, and a lack of patience, often interrupting others and intruding on conversations. Impulsivity can also present as a fierce temper and engaging in risky activities.


How is ADHD diagnosed?

Diagnosing ADHD is the first step in implementing an effective and holistic treatment plan and enjoying a full, unhindered life – at home, school or at work. Although ADHD has three core symptoms – inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity – each of these presents in different ways depending on the individual, which means there are a number of varied symptoms in children, teens and adults. In adults, five or more of these symptoms need to be present and in children or adolescents, six or more.

For a conclusive diagnosis, the symptoms of ADHD need to have persisted for at least six months, have had their onset before the age of twelve and must have caused some kind of functional impairment. These symptoms of ADHD can’t be better accounted for by another mental disorder and need to be present in more than one setting – for example, they need to be present at work and in social situations, or at school and at home.

 If you feel you might be experiencing the symptoms of ADHD, complete a personal assessment and make an appointment to visit a healthcare professional, who will help with a formal diagnosis and necessary treatment.


What causes ADHD?

ADHD is a complex lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. No one knows exactly what causes ADHD, but it is understood to result from chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, that don’t function properly in the areas of the brain that control activity and attention.

There’s increasing research to suggest that ADHD is linked to genetics – studies of twins show that it’s 76% inheritable. If an adult has ADHD, their children are at risk of having ADHD. In fact, experts say for any child with ADHD, there’s a 30%-40% chance one parent has ADHD too. At least one third of all adults who’ve had ADHD have children with ADHD.

There are also other factors that are thought to increase the risk of ADHD. Some studies show a possible correlation between ADHD and the use of cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy, as well as exposure to toxins (lead, for example) during pregnancy. Environmental factors can also influence the risk of having ADHD, such as birth complications, premature birth, low birth weight and brain injuries.


The impact of ADHD on the life of the individual

If not treated properly, ADHD can have a severe impact on the emotional and social aspects of one’s life – from childhood right into adulthood.

ADHD in children
Children with untreated ADHD have difficulty interacting with other children and might seem reclusive, as they enjoy spending time alone. They often struggle with following a family routine, and can’t complete homework or school tasks, which results in poor academic performance. This can have a serious impact on the parents of the child with ADHD, who battle to control and understand their child, and can’t seem to establish any family cohesion.

 ADHD in adolescents
In teens, ADHD can affect all important spheres of life – academics, peer relationships, family relationships and life skills learnt during this time, such as driving. Teens with ADHD struggle with academic performance and show higher rates of absenteeism, which has a ripple effect throughout their lives – adolescents with ADHD are less likely to enrol in university. They also find it hard to establish and maintain bonds with those around them – parental relationships are also strained as a result.

ADHD in adults
Adults with untreated ADHD are often maladjusted, immature and less likely to fit in with their peers. There’s a higher rate of divorce amongst adults with unmanaged ADHD, as they battle to maintain stable relationships. Their careers also take a hit – adults with ADHD have increased work difficulties, frequent changes in employment and higher rates of quitting. ADHD has an effect on the social lives of adults – they’re more likely to engage in addictive behaviours such as smoking, alcohol abuse and drugs.

With the right treatment, however, ADHD can be effectively managed – drastically reducing the potential impact of the disorder and giving the individual with ADHD the best possible quality of life.


How to treat ADHD

ADHD affects all aspects of a patient’s life, which is why a comprehensive and collaborative treatment plan is the best possible way to manage the condition. Teachers, employees and family members need to work together and communicate openly to ensure the person living with ADHD feels supported and understood.

Pharmacotherapy (medication) has shown to be an effective first-line therapy when treating ADHD, but medication should be used in conjunction with behavioural therapy and psychotherapy to successfully manage ADHD. Medications work to improve the key symptoms of ADHD: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The medications licensed in South Africa to treat ADHD are Methylphenidate and Atomoxetine.

It’s vital to work closely with a healthcare professional to find an effective, holistic treatment plan that works for the individual.