Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition affecting cognitive and behavioural functioning, leading to hyperactive behaviour and / or difficulties in concentrating. It originates in childhood, although sometimes it isn’t diagnosed before adulthood. ADHD often leads to problems in school or social functioning and may also affect emotional functioning. The aetiology of ADHD is unclear, but genetics play a role. Traumatic experiences at a very young age and low socio-economic status increase the risk of developing ADHD.
Impaired daily functioning is an obligatory criterion for diagnosis. The diagnosis should be based on extensive consultations, including developmental history, several observations and information from school or other organisations. This is usually done by a psychologist or psychiatrist, although a trained GP can also make the diagnosis.
The DSM-5 distinguishes the ADHD subtypes ‘combined type’, including both hyperactivity and inattention, and two less common subtypes, ‘predominantly inattentive’ (which is also named ADD) and ‘predominantly hyperactive-impulsive’ (in which hyperactivity and / or impulsivity predominates).
Treatment consists of the education of patients, caregivers and sometimes teachers. In addition, many cognitive-behavioural programmes exist in various forms, for example, those targeting individuals, groups, teachers, families, and so on. Psychostimulant drugs (e.g. methylphenidate) are also an important treatment option, either in addition to psychological interventions or as monotherapy.
Behavioural problems that do not meet the criteria for the diagnosis of ADHD are labelled (in children or adolescents) as ‘behavioural symptoms’, unless they occur as part of another condition, e.g. a psychiatric diagnosis (anxiety disorder, depression, oppositional defiant disorder) or a somatic condition (hearing or vision problems, medication side effects) and can be classified as such. In adults, ‘other psychological symptoms’ or another symptom diagnosis may be used to classify the problems if a diagnosis of ADHD cannot be made.