What is ADHD?

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding ADHD

What is ADHD? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life. It is a chronic condition that often begins in childhood and can continue into adulthood.

It is a lifespan disorder with the majority of children with ADHD continuing to struggle with symptoms as adults. ADHD also runs in families with a heritability chance of 57% for a child if a parent has ADHD, and a 70%–80% chance for a twin if the other twin has ADHD (Barkley 2015). Brain scan studies show differences in the development of the brain of individuals with ADHD, such as cortical thinning in the frontal regions; reduced volume in the inferior frontal gyrus; and reduced gray matter in the parietal, temporal, and occipital cortices (Matthews et al. 2014).

Long-term studies of children diagnosed with ADHD show that ADHD is a lifespan disorder. Recent follow-up studies of children with ADHD show that ADHD persists from childhood to adolescence in 50%–80% of cases, and into adulthood in 35%–65% of cases (Owens et al. 2015). A 16-year follow-study of boys diagnosed with ADHD found that 77% continued to have full or subthreshold DSM-IV ADHD (Biederman et al. 2012). A study of girls ages 6–12 years with childhood ADHD found that 10 years later, they continued to have higher rates of ADHD and coexisting conditions, compared to girls without ADHD (Hinshaw et al. 2012).

Symptoms of ADHD

The primary symptoms of ADHD can be categorised into two main types:


– Difficulty sustaining attention and concentration

– Easily distracted by external stimuli

– Forgetfulness and disorganisation

– Frequently losing or misplacing items

– Difficulty following instructions or completing tasks

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity:

– Excessive fidgeting, squirming, or restlessness

– Difficulty remaining seated or engaging in quiet activities

– Excessive talking or interrupting others

– Impatience and difficulty waiting their turn

– Acting impulsively without considering consequences

It’s important to note that the symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person, and some individuals may primarily exhibit inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive behaviors.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of ADHD are not fully understood, but research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Some potential risk factors include:

– Family history and genetics

– Exposure to environmental toxins or substances during pregnancy

– Premature birth or low birth weight

– Brain injuries or trauma

Diagnosis and Treatment

ADHD is typically diagnosed by a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist, through a comprehensive evaluation that includes:

– Clinical interviews with the individual and their family

– Behavioral observations

– Standardised rating scales and psychological tests

– Ruling out other potential causes or conditions

Managing ADHD often involves a combination of strategies, including:

– Medication (stimulants or non-stimulants)

– Behavioral therapy, coaching and counseling

– Educational interventions and accommodations

– Lifestyle modifications and support systems

It’s important to work closely with healthcare professionals and ADHD coaches to develop an individualised treatment plan that addresses the specific needs and challenges of each person with ADHD.

What are the most common misconceptions about ADHD?

There are several common misconceptions about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that need to be addressed:

Myth 1: ADHD is not a real medical condition

ADHD is a well-established neurodevelopmental disorder recognized by major medical organisations and backed by extensive research. It has a strong genetic component and brain imaging studies show differences in brain structure and function in individuals with ADHD.

Myth 2: ADHD is just a childhood disorder that people outgrow

While ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, it is a chronic condition that persists into adulthood in about 30-60% of cases. Many adults continue to experience symptoms and impairments related to ADHD throughout their lives.

Myth 3: ADHD is caused by poor parenting or lack of discipline

Research has shown that ADHD is primarily a neurobiological disorder with genetic and environmental factors contributing to its development. Poor parenting does not cause ADHD, although it can exacerbate or alleviate certain symptoms.

Myth 4: People with ADHD are lazy or lack intelligence

ADHD is not related to a person’s intelligence or motivation. Individuals with ADHD often have difficulties with focus, organisation, and impulse control, which can make them appear lazy or unmotivated, but this is a symptom of the disorder, not a character flaw.

Myth 5: Medication for ADHD is overprescribed and leads to substance abuse

Studies have shown that ADHD is underdiagnosed and undertreated, not overprescribed. Additionally, research has found that properly treating ADHD with medication does not increase the risk of substance abuse later in life; in fact, untreated ADHD is a greater risk factor for substance abuse.

By addressing these common myths and misconceptions, we can better understand ADHD as a legitimate medical condition and work towards destigmatizing and providing appropriate support and treatment for those affected.

How can I help someone with ADHD feel less misunderstood?

Here are some ways you can help someone with ADHD feel less misunderstood:

Practice Active Listening

Make an effort to truly listen and understand their perspective without judgment. Repeat back what they’ve said to ensure you comprehend their point of view correctly. Active listening makes people with ADHD feel heard and validated.

Educate Yourself

Read books, articles, and take courses to learn more about ADHD and the challenges it presents. The more you understand the condition, the better you can empathise with their experiences and avoid misunderstandings.

Encourage Open Communication

Create an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, feelings, and needs related to ADHD. Open and transparent communication helps prevent misunderstandings and allows you to see things from their perspective.

Be Patient and Avoid Criticism

People with ADHD often experience self-doubt and low self-esteem. Be patient with their symptoms and provide positive reinforcement instead of criticism, which can exacerbate negative feelings and perpetuate unhelpful patterns.

Observe Social Cues

Individuals with ADHD may miss subtle social cues and nuances in communication. Pay attention to body language, tone, and context to help bridge potential gaps in understanding.

Provide Structure and Routine

Disruptions to structure can be particularly challenging for those with ADHD. Maintaining routines and predictability can alleviate anxiety and make them feel more understood and supported.

By actively working to understand their perspective, creating an open and supportive environment, and educating yourself about ADHD, you can help someone with this condition feel less misunderstood and more accepted.


The most effective treatment for ADHD often involves a combination of medication, therapy, coaching, and lifestyle changes tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences. Regular follow-up and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary as needs change over time.