ADHD Essentials

The ADHD Overview from ADDitude

ADHD is a neurological condition that impacts executive function, working memory, impulsivity, focus, distractibility, and emotional health. Here, learn about ADHD symptoms in boys, girls, women, children, and adults. Take tests and learn about treatment options for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, too.

Jump to… What Is ADHD? | What Are the 3 Types of ADHD? | What Are the Symptoms of ADHD? | ADHD Tests | What Causes ADHD? | ADHD Diagnosis Information | ADHD in Children | ADHD in Adults | ADHD Treatment Options | How to Find ADHD Doctors

What Is ADHD? Definition & Meaning

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a complex brain disorder that impacts approximately 11 percent of children aged 4-17 and almost 5 percent of adults in the United States.1 ADHD is not a behavior disorder. It is a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system and executive functions.

“ADHD is not a breakdown of the brain in one spot. It’s a breakdown in the connectivity, the communication networks, and an immaturity in these networks,” says Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. “These brain networks are interrelated around emotion, attention, behavior, and arousal. People with ADHD have trouble with global self-regulation, not just regulation of attention, which is why there are attentional and emotional issues.”2

Learn more about ADHD here.

What Are the 3 Types of ADHD?

There are three distinct subtypes of ADHD:

  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
  • Inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD)
  • Combined ADHD

People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD act “as if driven by a motor” with little impulse control — moving, squirming impatiently, and interrupting others. People with inattentive ADHD are easily distracted and forgetful. They may be daydreamers who lose track of homework, cell phones, and conversations with regularity.

Learn more about the 3 types of ADHD here.

ADD vs. ADHD: What Is the Difference in Symptoms?

Traditionally, inattentive symptoms like trouble listening or managing time were diagnosed as “ADD.” Hyperactive and impulsive symptoms were associated with the term “ADHD.” Today, there is no ADD vs. ADHD; according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), there is just one diagnosis of ADHD — with 3 subtypes.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

Common symptoms of ADHD include inattention, lack of focus, poor time management, weak impulse control, exaggerated emotions, hyperfocus, hyperactivity, and executive dysfunction.

Doctors diagnose ADHD using symptom criteria from the (DSM-V), which lists nine symptoms that suggest Inattentive ADHD and nine that suggest Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. A child may be diagnosed with ADHD only if he or she exhibits at least six of nine symptoms from these ADHD symptom checklistsand if the symptoms have been noticeable for at least six months in two or more settings — for example, at home and at school. What’s more, the symptoms must interfere with the child’s functioning or development, and at least some of the symptoms must have been apparent before age 123. Older teens and adults may need to consistently demonstrate just five of these symptoms in multiple settings.

View the full checklist of ADHD symptoms here.

ADHD Symptoms in Children

Common Symptoms of Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD in Children

Common Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD in Children

See the full list of ADHD symptoms in children.

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Roughly two-thirds of people who experienced ADHD symptoms as a child will continue to experience ADHD symptoms as an adult, though its manifestations change with age.4 What’s more, many people with attention deficit were undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as children. They may suffer serious psychological consequences after a lifetime of blaming themselves for ADHD symptoms such as:

  • Forgetting names and dates
  • Missing deadlines and leaving projects unfinished
  • Extreme emotionality and rejection sensitivity
  • Becoming easily distracted and disorganized
  • Suffering anxiety and depression

See the full list of ADHD symptoms in adults.

ADHD Tests

Does My Child Have ADHD?

Does your child struggle to stay focused on homework and chores? Does he or she forget things even with frequent reminders? Is he or she constantly fidgeting? Take the ADHD symptom test for children.

Do I Have ADHD?

Do you struggle to finish the projects that you start? Are you easily distracted by noises and activity around you? Do you often forget appointments and obligations? Do you feel rejection more intensely than others? Take the ADHD symptom test for adults.

Take the ADHD symptom test for women and girls.

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD a brain-based, biological disorder. It is not caused by bad parenting, too much sugar, or too many video games. Scientists are investigating whether certain genes, especially ones linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, play a role in developing ADHD.5 Additional research suggests that exposure to toxins and chemicals may increase a child’s risk of having ADHD.

Learn more about the causes of ADHD here.

ADHD Diagnosis Information

Any good ADHD diagnosis is based on the criteria defined in the DSM-V. A clinical interview is performed to gather the patient’s medical history, and is often supplemented with neuropsychological ADHD tests, which offer greater insight into strengths and weaknesses, and helps identify comorbid (or co-existing) conditions. It can take several hours of talking, test taking, and analysis by an ADHD specialist to diagnose symptoms.

Learn more about the ADHD diagnosis process here.

ADHD in Children: Symptoms and Diagnosis

ADHD diagnoses have skyrocketed nearly 50 percent since 2003, bringing the total number of American children with ADHD to nearly 6 million, according to 2015 statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).6
Learn more about ADHD in children, including common symptoms, treatment options, and parenting advice.

ADHD in Adults: Symptoms and Diagnosis

ADHD symptoms do not magically disappear with puberty. In fact, roughly two-thirds of all children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD. But many still don’t know it. Because the medical community’s understanding of inattentive vs. hyperactive attention deficit, and the unique manifestation of symptoms in girls vs. boys, has improved so markedly in the last few decades, many adults are recognizing their ADHD symptoms for the first time in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s.
Learn more about ADHD in adults, including common symptoms, treatment options, and parenting advice.

ADHD Treatment Options

The best ADHD treatment strategies are multimodal ones — combinations of several different, complementary approaches that work together to reduce symptoms. Most ADHD treatment plans include one or more of the following:

  • ADHD medication — including a stimulant like Adderall (amphetamine) or Ritalin (methylphenidate), or a non-stimulant like Strattera or Intuniv
  • An ADHD diet low in sugar and carbohydrates, and high in protein, greens, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • ADHD vitamins and supplements — particularly zinc, iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, and magnesium, which are critical to healthy brain function.
  • Behavioral Therapy for ADHD, which works best in improving ADHD-associated oppositional behaviors in children, as well as other areas of functioning, like interactions with parents and school, when combined with medication.
  • ADHD therapies that run the gamut from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and occupational therapy to art or music therapy to play therapy and beyond
  • Natural remedies for ADHD like mindfulness meditation, brain training, or exercise

How to Find ADHD Doctors

“ADHD is generally ignored in medical education,” says William Dodson, M.D., an ADHD specialist and author. “Just 5 years ago, 93 percent of adult psychiatry residencies didn’t mention ADHD in four years of training and, amazingly, half of pediatric residencies didn’t mention ADHD.”

Finding a medical professional who understands ADHD and its comorbid conditions is not easy, but it is vital if you hope to secure an accurate diagnosis and proactive treatment plan. Use these criteria to find an ADHD doctor or other specialist near you.


1 “Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ed. Center for Disease Control. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
2 Brown, Thomas E., PhD. “What Is ADHD? (And What Is It Not?).” Additude. New Hope Media, 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
3 Association, American Psychiatric, ed. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-V. Washington: American Psychiatric, 2014.
4 Brown, Thomas E et al. “Persisting Psychosocial Impairments in Adults Being Treated with Medication for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Psychopharmacology bulletin (2017).
5 Blum, Kenneth et al. “Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment (Oct. 2008).
6 “Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ed. Center for Disease Control. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Updated on September 13, 2019

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