6.10 What Is ADHD? – Symptoms & Treatment

Jan 13, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch6 Attentional Processes & Theories

People diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience extreme energy, inattention, and sometimes a combination of both. They also struggle with focused activities. Explore the disorder in this lesson, and test your understanding with a quiz.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. This common childhood disorder can continue into teenage and adult years. Children with ADHD typically have trouble staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and exhibit hyperactivity (over-activity).

We have all seen that children can be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but what characterizes ADHD is the severity and continued occurrence of these behaviors. Before we can give an official diagnosis of ADHD, the child must exhibit symptoms, particularly in relation to their peers, for at least six months.


There are actually thought to be three different types of ADHD, each with different symptoms: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. Diagnosing ADHD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a licensed health professional and cannot be done with one single test. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists diagnostic criteria in two categories:


  • Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
  • Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
  • Often has trouble organizing activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat when sitting still is expected.
  • Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
  • Often excessively runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
  • Often has trouble playing or doing leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often ‘on the go’ or often acts as if ‘driven by a motor’.
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
  • Often has trouble waiting one’s turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).

So, in order to make a diagnosis, a child must exhibit six or more characteristics for the past six months. To be diagnosed with the predominately inattentive type of ADHD, the child must have six or more characteristics from the inattentiveness category but not six or more in the hyperactivity and impulsivity category. Likewise, a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive child meets the criteria outlined in the hyperactivity and impulsivity category but not as many from the inattentive list. The combined diagnosis is for children who have six or more symptoms in both categories.

Children with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD don’t exhibit what you may think of as classic symptoms. They may not have behavioral or social problems. Instead, they may sit quietly, seeming to behave as expected, but their focus is elsewhere. This type of child may not be diagnosed with ADHD because it’s harder for parents and teachers to notice the symptoms.


Although scientists have yet to determine the exact causes of ADHD, some studies have shown that genes may play a role in the disorder. Most likely, ADHD is caused by multiple factors in each child. Current researchers are studying things like environmental factors, brain injuries, nutrition, and social environment to see what effects, if any, they have on ADHD.


A key aspect of treating ADHD is taking a ‘multimodal’ approach. This means utilizing multiple methods for treatment. Right now, treatments revolve around minimizing the symptoms of ADHD and improving functioning in diagnosed children. The treatments often used in combination include medication, psychotherapy, and ADHD coaching.


Most medications used to treat ADHD are in the category of stimulant. While it probably seems counter-intuitive to treat a disorder characterized by hyperactivity with a stimulating drug, these medications have calming effects on children diagnosed with ADHD. The medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin, can reduce the symptoms, thereby improving children’s focus and increasing their work and learning capacities. Sometimes the medications also help with physical coordination.


There are different types of therapy used for children with ADHD. Behavioral therapy works to change the behavior of children. Therapists may work with children to teach social skills like waiting for their turn, sharing toys, asking for help, or responding to teasing. Sometimes, the whole family may need to attend therapy sessions. Therapists can work with family members to help develop constructive ways to deal with ADHD behavior.

ADHD Coaching

ADHD coaching is a way to help both children and adults live with ADHD. Coaches work with clients to identify areas of strength, set goals, build confidence, and, in general, affect a lasting change on a person’s ability to focus, make decisions, and take actions. ADHD coaching can also help parents find ways to work with their ADHD children.

Learning Outcomes

After finishing the video, try to make a goal to:

  • Explain what ADHD is
  • List the symptoms of ADHD and how it is diagnosed
  • Consider the causes researchers believe play a role in ADHD
  • Discuss some of the treatment options available for ADHD
7.2 Basic Memory Tasks: Recognition, Recall & Relearning
6.9 Selective Perception: Theory & Examples