ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Falkland House School in Fife, Scotland, takes referrals from all over Scotland and the UK. Pupils at the school are affected by various conditions: one of these is ADHD.

What is ADHD ?

ADHD is a disorder that involves problems focusing attention, controlling behaviour and being hyperactive. While most of us can procrastinate or may find it difficult to finish tasks from time to time, people with ADHD experience these things on a daily basis, making everything they do just a little bit more challenging.

Someone with ADHD might have significant attention problems, appear restless, fidgety, overactive and impulsive. They can act before thinking and often speak before thinking, blurting out and interrupting others. Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand other people’s actions and control our impulses.

Research

Researchers aren’t entirely sure what leads to ADHD but they believe genes or the environment, or a mixture of both, might be involved. Some believe it’s caused by poor transmission of messages in the brain, and in particular by low levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which carry messages from one neuron to another. These neurotransmitters are particularly associated with attention disorganisation and managing emotions.

Symptoms

Symptoms tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old. The symptoms usually improve with age, but many adults diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems. People with ADHD may also have other problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.

It’s thought that around 2 to 5 per cent of school-aged children may have the condition, and it’s more common among boys than girls. It can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it’s more common in people with learning disabilities. Perhaps what makes it even more difficult to live with ADHD is misinformation and negative stereotypes surrounding diagnosis. ADHD patients are often written off as undisciplined or lazy. Children with ADHD are not naughty children.

They may appear to misbehave and not follow the rules, but research suggests that this happens because they are not picking up on subtle rule changes. Looking after a child with ADHD can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that they can’t help their behaviour.

Diagnosis

There is also a debate over whether cases, which have risen over several years, are over-diagnosed. While the number of reported diagnoses has risen since 1997, it’s not possible to tell whether this increase represents a change in the number of children who have ADHD or a change in the number of children diagnosed.

Another controversial issue is the use of medication and the side effects this can have. ADHD is often treated with stimulant medication. The theory is that medication can either reduce the uptake or increase the production of neurotransmitters, so increasing the levels in the brain. However, there are concerns that these drugs may be used too quickly to deal with behaviours that are not due to ADHD at all: the child may simply be over-boisterous or unruly, or difficult to manage for other reasons to do with family and environment.

What’s more, they are very powerful drugs – some are classed as amphetamines – and can carry other health risks. Many parents are faced with the difficult decision of whether to medicate their child or not, and deal with the side effects, which can include restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability and mood swings, depression, loss of appetite, headaches, upset stomach, dizziness, racing heartbeat and tics.

Awareness Events In October

While many of us think we understand the condition and what it means for children diagnosed with ADHD and their parents, there is still a wealth of misinformation and uncertainty around the subject.

Every October, events and activities are organised all over the country to raise awareness of ADHD. These are an important resource for anybody who is affected by ADHD, their families and friends, and help to dispel the myths by getting the correct information across to the general public, too.