Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects focus, concentration and self-control. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood.
ADHD can vary in severity. It is diagnosed based on the presence of certain symptoms and how they impact daily life.
The diagnosis of ADHD depends on a thorough history from parents and teachers, observing a child’s behavior, and psychoeducational testing. The most common type of test is a neuropsychological assessment, but a range of tests are available.
Diagnosis can be made in children, adolescents or adults and is based on criteria from the DSM-5-TR. For children, the criteria must be met before age 12 and the symptoms must occur in more than one setting, such as home, school or work.
A pediatrician or qualified mental health professional will diagnose a child with ADHD by looking at a child’s medical and educational history, observing their behaviors, and doing psychoeducational testing. The doctor may also ask about any significant life changes, such as a recent move or death in the family.
If a doctor makes a diagnosis of ADHD, treatment is usually focused on a combination of medication, therapy and skills training. The most common types of medication are stimulants that boost brain chemicals called dopamine and norepinephrine. They are typically prescribed in low doses and taken at a regular schedule to avoid side effects.
They also can help to reduce stress and improve focus. They can be given along with therapy to help patients learn how to control their emotions, improve social interactions, and develop better time management and organization skills.
Medications are used for short-term or long-term treatment to manage symptoms, such as increased attention and focus, and decreased impulsivity. They have a wide range of side effects and may need to be changed or adjusted if side effects become too strong.
There are many different kinds of behavioral and cognitive therapies that can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms. These therapies include behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and family and marital therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people learn how to understand their thoughts and feelings and change negative patterns of thinking that contribute to poor attention and concentration. The therapist also teaches them strategies for managing their emotions, such as staying calm in situations that might cause them to act out or resisting the urge to do something reckless.
Behavior therapy and hypnosis can also be helpful to reduce unwanted, disruptive behaviors that interfere with a person’s daily activities. These therapies can be administered by a trained therapist and may be offered individually or as part of a group.
When a child or teenager with ADHD has a challenging home or classroom environment, mental health professionals can work to create new, healthier ways of interacting with peers and parents. They can help the child and their family learn to communicate more effectively, resolve conflicts and avoid destructive behaviors.