Introduction 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • a short attention span or being easily distracted
  • restlessness, constant fidgeting or overactivity
  • being impulsive

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it is more common in people with learning difficulties. People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of ADHD tend to be first noticed at an early age, and may become more noticeable when a child's circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed in children between the ages of 6 and 12.

The symptoms of ADHD usually improve with age, but many adults who are diagnosed with the condition at a young age will continue to experience problems.

Read more about the symptoms of ADHD.

Getting help 

Many children go through phases where they are restless or inattentive. This is often completely normal and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.

However, you should consider raising your concerns with your child's teacher, their school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or GP if you think their behaviour may be different to most children their age.

It's also a good idea to speak to your GP if you are an adult and you think you may have ADHD, but you were not diagnosed with the condition as a child.

Read more about diagnosing ADHD.

What causes ADHD?

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families, and research has identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD compared to those who don't have the condition.

Other factors that have been suggested as potentially having a role in ADHD include:

  • being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy)
  • having a low birthweight
  • smoking, alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy

Read more about the causes of ADHD.

How common is ADHD?

ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK. It's unknown exactly how many people have the condition, but most estimates suggest if affects around 2-5% of school-aged children and young people.

Childhood ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls.

Girls with ADHD often have a form of the condition where the main symptoms relate to problems with attention rather than hyperactivity, which can cause less noticeable symptoms. It is therefore possible that ADHD could be underdiagnosed in girls, and could be more common than previously thought.

How ADHD is treated

There is no cure for ADHD, but it can be managed with appropriate educational support, advice and support for parents and affected children, alongside medication, if necessary.

Medication is often the first treatment offered to adults with ADHD, although psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also help.

Read more about treating ADHD.

Living with ADHD

Looking after a child with ADHD can be challenging, but it is important to remember that they cannot help their behaviour.

Some issues that may arise in day-to-day life include:

  • getting your child to sleep at night
  • getting ready for school on time
  • listening to and carrying out instructions
  • being organised
  • social occasions
  • shopping

Adults with ADHD may also find they have similar problems, and some may have issues with drugs, crime and employment.

Read about living with ADHD for information on ways to cope with these issues.

Child health 6-15

Information on child health, including healthy diet, fitness, sex education and exam stress

Page last reviewed: 15/05/2014

Next review due: 15/05/2016