What is it?

ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition which affects an individual's attention, impulsivity and concentration. Individuals with ADHD have difficulty controlling their behaviour, appear hyperactive and find it hard to stay focused. ADHD is a common disorder in children and although symptoms can improve with age, it is a lifelong condition. It is important that ADHD is diagnosed and treated early to prevent individuals developing behavioural and emotional problems leading to social isolation as they grow up.

ADHD is more common in individuals with learning difficulties; however, it can occur in individuals of any intellectual ability.

What causes it?

There is different evidence supporting the potential cause of ADHD, however, it is believed that there could be numerous contributing factors. Research suggests that ADHD is a genetic condition as it runs in families and appears to be hereditary. Individuals are four to five times more likely to have ADHD if this condition is present in their parents or siblings.

It is also suggested that individuals with ADHD have differences in brain structure and function. Research has suggested that individuals with ADHD may have a chemical imbalance in their brain and that their neurotransmitters may not work properly. This affects communication in the brain and impacts on an individual's ability to manage their emotions, impacts on their attention as well as impacting on their ability to organise.

Other causes which have been identified as possible but lack evidence in supporting their claim include:

·       Premature birth

·       Brain damage before birth or in early years

·       A mother drinking alcohol, using drugs or smoking when pregnant

·       Low birthweight

·       Exposure to high levels of toxic lead in infancy


Signs and symptoms (how to spot it / what does it feel like)

Individuals with ADHD have symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. These symptoms will include:

·       Impulsive behaviour – Behaves inappropriately, running around or getting up out of their seat in situations where you are expected to remain seated.

·       Overactive – They never stop moving and are always on the go.

·       Pay no attention to detail and make careless mistakes

·       Have trouble finishing or sticking to tasks

·       Are easily distracted

·       Find it difficult to focus and pay attention

·       Appear unable to listen

·       Unable to sit still and constantly fidgeting

·       Talking a lot, interrupting others and blurting things out

·       Lack a sense of danger

·       Loses things often and appears forgetful

·       Difficulty in waiting their turn


ADHD impacts on all aspects of life including relationships, home life, school or work. Therefore, in severe cases, it may be deemed a disability in accordance with The Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This act states “a person had a disability for the purposes of this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” Adults with ADHD may also have additional related problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, personality disorder but the most common associated problem is depression.

Treatment options

A combination of medication and therapy is most effective in treating ADHD. Different medications are available to help treat an individual's impulsive behaviour helping them to feel calmer. Individuals are encouraged to learn and practice new behaviours as well as discuss how ADHD affects them. Psychoeducation can help individuals make sense of their diagnosis and help them learn coping strategies to live with this condition. Behaviour therapy, social skills training, parent education and training programmes, cognitive behavioural therapy, diet and supplements may all be used in treating ADHD. Take control of your health with your own personal health service.


By Helen Rutherford