Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder, sometimes also referred to as a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that a person may have difficulties with inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

A wide range of people experience ADHD. It is more commonly diagnosed in boys and is often noticed at a young age, but it can affect anyone, and be diagnosed at any age. ADHD is often initially recognised when children are in school between 6-12 years old.

Symptoms of ADHD

There are lots of symptoms associated with ADHD and they are usually present at both home and in school. Behavioural symptoms can be split into two areas: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

The main symptoms of inattentiveness include:

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks.

The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness include:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • being unable to wait their turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger.

Often the symptoms become more manageable as children get older, however some adults continue to experience difficulties as they go through life.

Parents often feel concerned that ADHD is associated with bad behaviour and 'naughty' children, but ADHD is a medical condition that affects children in ways that can be beyond their control – and support is available to help. If you are a parent and are worried are ADHD, or need a little extra support, you can find advice and information, including organisations that can support you, in our section for Parents or Carers.

It is important to remember that all children go through phases when they find it more difficult to concentrate and sit still. However, if this is causing significant difficulties or is very different to other children of the same age then you can talk to the school's special education needs co-ordinator (SENCO) for support at school. Your GP (or CAMHS worker, if appropriate) can also discuss your concerns and explore if the difficulties fit an ADHD diagnosis in more detail.

CAMHS may offer a support for ADHD symptoms when this is present alongside a primary mental illness. Although there is no cure for ADHD, it can be managed using a variety of appropriate support in school and at home, alongside medical treatment if that's needed.

In the first instance, we will provide you with plenty of information about ADHD, and will work with you and the school to look at how a child's environment might be modified and improved to help them. If the symptoms cause persistent and significant impairment then medication might also be provided. If this is successful but challenges still remain then cognitive behaviour therapy can also help. This would focus on:

  • social skills with peers
  • problem-solving
  • self-control
  • active listening skills
  • dealing with and expressing feelings.

There are lots of useful resources available online that can give you more information about ADHD and ADD including:

Young Minds - guide to ADHD

ADHD - NHS guide

ADHD Foundation - a charity supporting people affected by ADHD

ADHD - information for parents from the Royal College of Psychiatrists