Overview - Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Symptoms of ADHD tend to be 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 when children are 6 to 12 years old.

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

People with ADHD may also have additional problems, such as sleep and anxiety disorders.

Read more about the symptoms of ADHD.

Getting help 

Many children go through phases where they're 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 from most children their age.

It's also a good idea to speak to your GP if you're an adult and you think you may have ADHD but weren't 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. Research has also identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD when compared with those without the condition.

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

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

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it's more common in people with learning difficulties.

Read more about the causes of ADHD.

How ADHD is treated

Although there's no cure for ADHD, 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's 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 relationships or social interaction.

Read about living with ADHD for information on coping with these issues.

Page last reviewed: 30/05/2018
Next review due: 30/05/2021