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Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Overview



  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a condition that causes problems paying attention, being unable to sit still, and doing things without thinking first.
  • Treatment may include learning coping skills, behavioral training, and medicines.
  • Exercising, yoga, meditation, and learning other ways to relax may also be helpful when used along with medicines and therapy.


What is ADHD?

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes problems paying attention (inattentive), being unable to sit still (hyperactive), and doing things without thinking first (impulsive). ADHD is more common in boys than girls.

ADHD used to be called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. ADHD seems to run in families. Children with this disorder may have physical changes in their brain. These changes may mean that some parts of the brain are more active or less active than in other people.

There is no evidence that ADHD is caused by vaccines, sugar, or things added to foods such as preservatives and coloring. Allergies are not a common factor in causing ADHD either.

What are the symptoms?

There are 3 main types of ADHD in children and teens:

  • Problems paying attention (inattentive). Symptoms may include:
    • Being distracted by what is going on around them
    • Starting many projects but not finishing them
    • Trouble learning new tasks or following instructions
    • Forgetting or losing things
    • Daydreaming and getting confused easily
  • Problems sitting still and doing things without thinking first (impulsive and hyperactive). Symptoms may include:
    • Fidgeting, and getting bored quickly
    • Acting or reacting to things quickly and without thinking of the outcome
    • Talking nonstop, interrupting other people who are talking, or speaking without thinking
    • Being impatient or unable to wait one’s turn
    • Being restless or unable to keep still
  • Combined type symptoms may include a combination of being inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive.

The symptoms of ADHD can appear in children age 4 and younger. Children are often diagnosed by age 7. Learning and language problems are common. Most children have a second mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, or conduct disorder.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your child's symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines your child is taking. Your child’s provider will check for a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause or add to the symptoms.

Parents and teachers may be asked questions about ADHD symptoms. Your child may need to see a mental health professional for help with attention and self-control.

How is it treated?

The treatment of ADHD may involve:

  • Learning coping skills: Children with ADHD benefit from learning to manage situations that distract or over-excite them. Your child should learn to study in quiet places and to take frequent breaks. In a classroom, your child may do best at individual desks rather than at a table with others and may find that soft background music is helpful. Your child may need help learning how to organize schoolwork, chores, and other activities. Your child may need more structure and daily routines than most people.
  • Behavioral training: Behavior therapy may help your child pay attention for a longer time and be able to sit still. The therapist can work with your child’s school and with you to make your child’s treatment more effective.
  • Medicines: Stimulant and nonstimulant medicines may be helpful. If these medicines are not effective or cause unwanted side effects, there are other medicines that can help with ADHD. If your child also has depression, anxiety or another diagnosis, your child may need other medicines.

Do not try nonprescription medicines, diets, or other alternative treatments. Claims have been made that certain herbal and dietary products or diet changes help control ADHD symptoms. No herbal or dietary supplements have been proven to relieve the symptoms of ADHD consistently or completely. Supplements are not tested or standardized and may vary in strengths and effects. They may have side effects and are not always safe. Before you change your child’s diet or add any supplement, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

Being physically active and learning ways to relax may help. Yoga and meditation may also be helpful. You may want to talk with your healthcare provider about using these methods along with medicines and therapy.

What can I do to help my child?

There are many ways to help manage ADHD:

  • When children need to read or concentrate, have them work away from the sounds of television, radio, or others talking. You might try playing low-level background sound such as white noise or instrumental music.
  • Encourage your child to do tasks in short blocks of time with breaks in between. Use checklists, timers, or alarms to help older children and teens keep on task.
  • Teach your child how to use a planner and how to organize schoolwork.
  • Most school districts have special programs to help children with ADHD. Find out what services are available through the school district or your community to help.
  • Help your child follow a structured daily routine.
  • Work with your child’s teachers and therapist to be consistent with what to expect from your child and what rules and rewards to use.
  • If your child has trouble slowing down at bedtime, planned quiet time before bedtime and background music when falling asleep are often helpful.
  • Help your child learn to manage stress. Teach children and teens to practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques when feeling stressed. Help your child find ways to relax. For example, take up a hobby, listen to music, play, watch movies, or take walks.
  • Take care of your child’s health. Make sure your child eats a variety of healthy foods and gets enough sleep and physical activity every day. Teach children and teens to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and drugs.
  • Check your child’s medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your child's healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the prescription and nonprescription medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and supplements your child takes. Make sure your child takes all medicines as directed by your provider or therapist. It is important that your child takes his or her medicine even when feeling and thinking well. Without the medicine, your child’s symptoms may not improve or may get worse. Talk to your provider if your child has problems taking the medicine or if the medicines don't seem to be working.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse.

For more information, contact:

  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-12-07
Last reviewed: 2021-04-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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