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Learn more about the causes and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how a medical diagnosis is made. Early diagnosis helps to counteract ADHD in time.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity - the symptoms of the mental illness ADHD are usually diagnosed in childhood. Associated problems in everyday school life or later in the professional field, as well as social difficulties, can influence the lives of those affected into adulthood. Early diagnosis helps to counteract the effects of ADHD in time.

ADHD - signs and symptoms

Those who suffer from ADHD usually stand out among their peers during childhood. In fact, low concentration, impulsive behaviour or an active nature are not uncommon in children and adolescents. However, ADHD manifests itself in children in behaviours, that are conspicuously beyond the "normal level" and thus difficulties can arise at school or within the family. The effects of ADHD thus affect not only the child itself but also parents, friends, and teachers and therefore can become a great burden. The typical ADHD symptoms are:

  • Concentration difficulties/inattention: Children with ADHD are also often compared to "head-in-the-clouds-people" or described as daydreamers. Because they are easily distracted either by external stimuli or thoughts, they quickly lose touch or the desire to do an activity. A certain "scatterbrainedness", which manifests itself in losing things, as well as problems following explanations, can also be part of the clinical picture.
  • Restlessness: A child with ADHD finds it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. This can lead, for example, to wiggling around on the chair or getting up and running around in the classroom. Those children are often compared to the figure of "fidgety Philip".
  • Impulsiveness: Blurting out an answer before the question has been finished or a general inability to wait is typical behaviour. ADHD often makes children's manners seem uncontrolled and spontaneous.

Due to learned social behaviours, in adulthood especially impulsive behaviour and external restlessness often weaken. However, an inner urge may remain.

ADHD: Possible causes

How ADHD develops has not been conclusively clarified. Scientists assume that various factors promote the disease. ADHD can be caused by:

  • Genetic predisposition: Researchers believe that the cause for ADHD is up to 70-80 per cent genetic. In most cases, parents, siblings, or other close relatives already suffer from the disorder. If one parent suffers from ADHD, male offspring in particular, are at risk of also developing the mental disorder.
  • Malfunctions in the brain: Reduced activity of certain brain regions, for example, the frontal lobe or areas of the cerebellum, favour ADHD. In these areas, the concentration of the following important messenger substances (neurotransmitters), which are responsible for communication between the nerve cells, is too low. Noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin are essential for attention, motivation, drive, and impulse control.
  • Environmental influences: The course for an ADHD disorder can be set at an early age. Nicotine, alcohol or drug use by the mother during pregnancy, premature birth, or birth complications are possible conditions that can play a role. The conditions under which a child grows up can also be decisive. Unfavourable circumstances that may exacerbate ADHD are:
  • Constant overstimulation by noise (for example, from arguing parents)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Little emotional attention
  • Lack of or inadequate structures
  • High media consumption
  • Great pressure to perform

How can I tell if my child might have ADHD?

The core symptoms mentioned earlier may manifest themselves in various noticeable behaviours. These include:

  • Clumsiness as well as risky behaviour and accompanying accidents during play.
  • Constant talking and interrupting as well as disrupting lessons
  • Dislike of fixed rules
  • Frequent outbursts of anger due to low frustration tolerance
  • Poor tidiness and constant misplacing/loss of things.
  • Possible reading, spelling, or arithmetic difficulties
  • Slow and unsystematic solving of tasks

However, ADHD can manifest itself differently in each child and it is often difficult to distinguish these symptoms from age-appropriate behaviour. Therefore, it is important to observe the child's development and to ask people close to the child, such as teachers in the daycare centre or school. It is also necessary to consult an experienced specialist such as a child or youth psychiatrist. Diagnosis is divided into two areas:

  • Psychological tests and questionnaires help to examine the child's learning, social, and performance behaviour. Parents, as well as teachers and educators, are involved in the diagnostic process. School exercise books or report cards are helpful documents.
  • In addition to a detailed interview, a physical examination of the child is also important to rule out other causes. Testing motor coordination skills and the child's behaviour during the examination play a role. Video recordings to view facial expressions, gestures, body language, and breaks in attention are also tried and tested means by which an ADHD diagnosis can be consolidated.

Possible treatments for ADHD

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, it is important to seek specialist care to determine what treatment options are available for you and your child. Due to the complex clinical picture, ADHD treatment that consists of several components is recommended:

  • Professional counselling helps parents to understand ADHD - from the causes to possible treatment strategies. It is important to develop a structured and comprehensive treatment plan.
  • Psychological, psychotherapeutic, and social intervention: Regular behavioural training for the affected child as well as parents and relatives is a good option to establish individual behavioural patterns and helpful structures. This also includes cooperation with teachers or educators.
  • Under certain conditions, the administration of medication is possible. These can usually be used for children from the age of six and adolescents under the age of 18. The active substances contained can help improve concentration and reduce impulsive behaviour.

Depending on the individual needs of the affected child, different treatment options are usually combined. The goal is to reduce the symptoms associated with ADHD and to promote the child's strengths.

Is ADHD also possible in adulthood?

In the vernacular, ADHD is often considered a children's disease. In fact, the condition can persist into adulthood. However, as people grow up, the symptoms of the disorder often change, making a late diagnosis more difficult. The excessive urge to move and the increased motor activity usually disappear. Restlessness, "scatterbrainedness", disorganisation and/or impulsive behaviour thus have become personality traits over the years.

If ADHD remains untreated, it can have severe consequences for the affected person's everyday life and life course. Difficulties in interpersonal relationships or at work are common symptoms and can contribute to additional illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, or addictions. In fact, affected adolescents - as well as adults - are more likely to develop, for example:

  • Nicotine dependence as well as alcohol or drug abuse up to addiction,
  • a tendency to engage in risky sexual practices,
  • early or unwanted pregnancies,
  • increased risk of injuries and accidents, and
  • general underestimation of possible risks.

Positive aspects of ADHD

If those affected succeed in using the creativity and special inventiveness often associated with ADHD, this is often rewarded with success and recognition. Famous personalities such as Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh or Hermann Hesse have been diagnosed with ADHD. When sufferers find a topic or vocation that excites or even captivates them, they respond with the highest levels of motivation and performance. The targeted focus reduces distraction and the chosen task can be completed successfully. Good access to one's feelings as well as a strong desire for justice and a willingness to help are also among the characteristics associated with ADHD.

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