Attention Defecit Disorder/Attention
What is ADHD (ADD)?
The official definition of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as it appears
in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association is: ADHD
is a disorder that can include a list of nine specific symptoms of inattention and nine
symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity.
Individuals with ADHD may know what to do but do not consistently do what they know
because of their inability to efficiently stop and think prior to responding, regardless
of the setting or task.
Characteristics of ADHD have been demonstrated to arise in early childhood for most
individuals. This disorder is marked by chronic behaviors lasting at least six months with
an onset often before seven years of age. At this time, four subtypes of ADHD have been
defined. These include the following:
1. ADHD Inattentive type is defined by an individual experiencing
at least six of the following characteristics:
Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
Difficulty sustaining attention
Does not appear to listen
Struggles to follow through on instructions
Difficulty with organization
Avoids or dislikes requiring sustained mental effort
Often loses things necessary for tasks
Forgetful in daily activities
2. ADHD hyperactive/impulsive type is defined by an individual
experiencing six of the following characteristics:
Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
Difficulty remaining seated
Runs about or climbs excessively (in adults may be limited to subjective feelings of
Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
Acts as if driven by a motor
Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
Difficulty waiting in turn taking situations
Interrupts or intrudes upon others
3. ADHD combined type is defined by an individual meeting both
sets of attention and hyperactive/impulsive criteria.
4. ADHD not otherwise specified is defined by an individual who
demonstrates some characteristics but an insufficient number of symptoms to reach a full
diagnosis. These symptoms, however, disrupt everyday life.
The majority of adults with ADHD have been described as
experiencing symptoms very similar to the problems experienced by children. They are often
restless, easily distracted, struggle to sustain attention, are impulsive and impatient.
They have been described as experiencing problems with stress intolerance leading to
greater expressed emotion. Within the workplace they may not achieve vocational positions
or status commensurate with their siblings or intellectual ability.
Children and adults who have ADHD exhibit degrees of inattention or
hyperactivity/impulsivity that are abnormal for their ages. This can result in serious
social problems, or impairment, of family relationships, success at school or work or in
other life endeavors.
Children and adults can exhibit other psychiatric disorders (medically known as
comorbidity), along with their ADHD symptoms. Most commonly, these include oppositional
defiant or conduct disorder, along with or separate from internalizing disorders, such as
anxiety and depression.
Other definitions have existed, such as that for Attention Deficit disorder, or ADD. These
use different labels for the same conditions and can be interchanged with ADHD. For the
purposes of this fact sheet, however, we will continue to use ADHD.
There are two modalities of treatment that specifically target symptoms of ADHD. One uses
medication and the other is a non-medical treatment with psychosocial interventions. The
combination of these treatments is called multimodality treatment.
Treating ADHD in children requires a coordinated effort between medical, mental health and
educational professionals in conjunction with parents. This combined set of treatments
offered by a variety of individuals is referred to as multi-modal intervention. A
multi-modal treatment program should include: . Parent training concerning the nature of
ADHD as well as effective behavior management strategies . An appropriate educational
program . Individual and family counseling, when needed, to minimize the escalation of
family problems . Medication when required
Psychostimulants are the most widely used medications for the management of ADHD symptoms.
At least 70% to 80% of children and adults with ADHD respond positively to psychostimulant
Stimulant medications have been used to treat the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of
ADHD for more than 50 years. A study by Wilens and Biederman (1997) summarized the
findings of controlled trials validating the use of these medications. Treatment with
stimulants is beneficial in about 80% of children with ADHD.
Behavior modification techniques have been used to treat the behavioral symptoms of ADHD
for more than a quarter of a century. A summary of the literature on trials that have
validated the efficacy of this approach shows that, in many cases, behavior modification
alone has not been sufficient to address severe symptoms of ADHD.
Classroom success for children with ADHD often requires a range of interventions. Most
children with ADHD can be taught in the regular classroom with either minor adjustments in
the classroom setting, the addition of support personnel, and/or special education
programs provided outside of the classroom. The most severely affected children with ADHD
often experience a number of occurring problems and require specialized classrooms.
Laws passed during the last five years have mandated educational interventions for
children with ADHD. Today, modifications and special placements in public school settings
are part of treatment of ADHD. The coordination of school-based interventions with medical
interventions has become possible (but remains difficult) due to these changes in
educational law regulations.
The information provided here were summarized from and can be reviewed in greater depth in
the following authoritative sources:
Barkley, R.A. (1990).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment. New
York, NY; Guilford Press
Barkley, R.A. (in press).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: a Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment
-2nd edition. New York, NY; Guilford Press
Barkley, R.A. (1997).
ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control.New York, NY: Guilford Press
DuPaul, G.J. & Stoner, G. (1994).
ADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention Strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Goldstein, S. (1997).
Managing Attention and Learning Disorders in Late Adolescence and Adulthood: A Guide for
Practitioners. New York, NY: Wiley Interscience Press.
Goldstein, S. & Goldstein, M. (1990).
Managing Attention Disorders in Children: A Guide for Practitioners. New York, NY: Wiley
Goldstein, S. & Goldstein, M. (in press).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Guide for Practitioners. New York, NY: Wiley
Greenhill, L.L. & Osman, B.B. (1991).
Ritalin, Theory and Patient Management. New York, NY: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publisher
Matson, J.L. (1993).
Handbook for Hyperactivity in Children. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Nadeau, K.G. (1995).
A Comprehensive Guide to Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel
Parenting a child who has ADD can be an exhausting and, at times, frustrating experience.
Parents play a key role in managing the disability. They usually need specialized training
in behavior management and benefit greatly from parent support groups.
Parents often find that approaches to parenting that work well with children who do not
have ADD, do not work as well -- or at all -- with children who have ADD.
Parents often feel helpless, frustrated and exhausted. Too often, family members become
angry and withdraw from each other. If untreated, the situation only worsens.
Children with ADD often need their parents to identify their areas of strength. By
focusing on these areas, children can develop the confidence and skills to tackle other,
difficult situations. Parents of children who have ADD must work on the task of not
overreacting to their children's mistakes. They can find parent support groups, such as
those offered by local CH.A.D.D. chapters, an invaluable aid.
Parent training can be one of the most important and effective interventions for a child
with ADD. Effective training will teach parents how to apply strategies to manage their
child's behavior and improve their relationship with their child.
Without consistent structure and clearly defined expectations and limits, children with
ADD can become quite confused about the behaviors that are expected of them.
A technique called "charting" is often the first step in any behavior
modification program. It requires that parents specifically define the behavior they are
concerned about so that it can be observed and counted. Charting makes parents more aware
of their own behavior and children more aware of a problem behavior.
Parents are encouraged to designate 10 to 15 minutes of each day as "very special
time." Parents use this time to focus on being with the child, attending to what he
is doing, listening to the child, and providing occasional positive feedback.
Parents are taught how to effectively use positive reinforcement by attending to their
child's positive behavior while ignoring, as much as possible, negative behavior.
Parents are also taught how to decrease inappropriate behavior through a series of
progressively more active responses -- ignoring behavior; natural consequences, such as
not replacing a toy left out in the rain; logical consequences, such as loss of television
time if the child leaves the room without turning the television off; and time-out.
Time-out involves having the child sit quietly in a designated place for a specific time
after he has misbehaved.
Parents learn to give commands and directions that can be understood and attended to by
the child with ADD.
Making and keeping friends is a difficult task for children with ADD. A variety of
behavioral excesses and deficits common to these children get in the way of friendships.
They may talk too much, dominate activities, intrude in others' games, or quit a game
before its done. They may be unable to pay attention to what another child is saying, not
respond when someone else tries to initiate an activity, or exhibit inappropriate
behavior. Parents of a child with ADD need to be concerned about their child's peer
relations. Problems in this area can lead to loneliness, low self-esteem, depressed mood,
and increased risk for anti-social behavior.
Parents can help provide opportunities for their child to have positive interactions with
peers. There are a number of concrete steps parents can take:
setting up a home reward program that focuses on one or two important social behaviors
observing the child in peer interactions to discover good behaviors and poor, or absent,
behaviors directly coaching, modeling and role-playing important behaviors "catching
the child" at good behavior so as to provide praise and rewards
Other strategies include structuring initial activities for the child and a friend that
are not highly interactive, such as trips to the library or playground; using short breaks
from peer interactions when the arousal level becomes high; and working to reduce
aggressive behavior in the home.
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