What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity).

ADHD has three subtypes:1

• Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive

• Most symptoms (six or more) are in the hyperactivity-impulsivity categories.

• Fewer than six symptoms of inattention are present, although inattention may still be present to some degree.

• Predominantly inattentive

• The majority of symptoms (six or more) are in the inattention category and fewer than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present, although hyperactivity-impulsivity may still be present to some degree.

• Children with this subtype are less likely to act out or have difficulties getting along with other children. They may sit quietly, but they are not paying attention to what they are doing. Therefore, the child may be overlooked, and parents and teachers may not notice that he or she has ADHD.

• Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive

• Six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present.

• Most children have the combined type of ADHD.

Treatments can relieve many of the disorder's symptoms, but there is no cure. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school and lead productive lives. Researchers are developing more effective treatments and interventions, and using new tools such as brain imaging, to better understand ADHD and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent it.


1 DSM-IV-TR workgroup. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in children?

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of ADHD. It is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

Children who have symptoms of inattention may:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty focusing on one thing
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions

Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.

Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • Often interrupt conversations or others' activities.

Does my child have ADHD? Watch this video about the signs, symptoms, and research. See here

ADHD Today

• Using brain imaging technology like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists have observed that in some children, ADHD may be related to how the brain is wired or how it is structured. For other children with ADHD, brain development follows a normal but delayed pattern. In some regions, development is delayed by an average of three years compared to children without the disorder.

• The delay appears to be in the frontal cortex, a part of the brain that supports the ability to suppress inappropriate actions and thoughts, focus attention, remember things moment to moment, work for reward, and plan ahead. In contrast, the motor cortex—the area that controls movement—tends to mature faster than normal in children with ADHD, an exception to the pattern of delay. This mismatch in brain development may account for the restlessness and fidgety symptoms commonly associated with ADHD.

• Different types of psychotherapy are effective in treating ADHD. Behavioral therapy helps teach practical skills such as how to organize tasks and manage time to complete homework assignments. It also helps children work through difficult emotions. Therapists also teach children social skills such as how to wait their turn, share toys, ask for help, or respond to teasing.

• Studies show that interventions that include intensive parent education programs can help decrease ADHD problem behavior because parents are better educated about the disorder and better prepared to manage their child’s symptoms. They are taught organizational skills and how to develop and keep a schedule for their child. They are also taught how to give immediate and positive feedback for behaviors they want to encourage, and how to ignore or immediately redirect behaviors they want to discourage.