What is ADHD?

So what is ADHD? Most people have heard of it but much fewer have a good understanding of what it is. When the term ADHD is mentioned I’m sure many people’s minds immediately picture the classic stereotype of hyperactive, naughty little boys who are constantly full of energy and get distracted by anything and everything. Whilst it can sometimes present in this way, this does not describe the large majority of people with ADHD and someone does not need to be hyperactive to have ADHD. In fact ADHD can lead to many different symptoms and difficulties that differ greatly between individuals. In particular symptoms can present very differently between sexes and between adults and children. This post aims to outline the different forms of ADHD and highlight some common symptoms, beyond the typical ones that everyone has heard of.

There are 3 types of ADHD:

  • Hyperactive-impulsive type
  • Inattentive Type (formerly known as ADD/Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Combined type

Symptoms of inattentive type include (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • becoming easily distracted
  • trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities (i.e. getting bored quickly)
  • poor attention to detail or making careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • difficulty organising thoughts, tasks and activities
  • losing things, e.g. keys, phone, pen, homework etc
  • often appear not to be listening when directly spoken to
  • forgetful in daily activities
  • often does not follow through on instructions or fails to finish tasks

People who are impulsive or hyperactive often (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • fidget, fiddle with things or feel restless
  • struggle to sit still or often leave seat when remaining seated is expected
  • talk too much and/or too quickly
  • have trouble engaging in quiet activities
  • are constantly “on the go”
  • are impatient and have difficulty waiting their turn
  • act impulsively without thinking about consequences of actions, e.g. doing something dangerous without thinking about potential for injury
  • blurt out answers and inappropriate comments
  • interrupt people when talking

May also (not included in DSM-5 guidelines):

  • struggle to process and remember new information or large amounts of information at once
  • have difficulty focusing on a single task, often switching between many different tasks
  • be overly sensitive and/or have exaggerated emotional responses
  • often appear to be ‘zoned out’ or daydreaming

People with combination type experience many symptoms from both lists.

To meet diagnostic criteria you must experience at least six of the nine key symptoms for a specific type of ADHD (or five or more if aged over 16 years)1. To be diagnosed with combination ADHD, you must show at least six (or five if 17+) symptoms from each group (inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour). Additionally, symptoms should have been present before the age of 12, occur in more than one setting (e.g. home, school, work, or with friends), and significantly impact everyday functioning, e.g. work or school performance or socially. Finally, the symptoms cannot be better explained by another mental disorder.

Hopefully this post has helped deepen your understanding of ADHD slightly and highlighted that not everyone that has ADHD is hyperactive and that there are many other everyday difficulties associated with ADHD, such as memory, processing and organisational issues.

[1] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Published by Alice

Just a girl with ADHD trying to navigate her way through life but getting distracted along the way... Insight into what really goes through my brain, without forcing people to listen.

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