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What is ADHD

ADHD is an acronym for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Learn how ADHD is diagnosed in this article. Become familiar with the three ADHD variants, and the roles of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in ADHD.

First described in a poem about a "fidgety" boy by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman in 1845, the syndrome that is now called Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is now widely recognized. The fact that it is a syndrome means that there are a range of conditions that fall into this group, and the slash mark between the words in the name is a general indicator of how this works.

In the current definition, there are actually two sets of criteria thatâ€"when applied by a health care professionalâ€" may be found separately or together, yielding three different variants.

In all cases, diagnosis of ADHD assumes that the symptoms appeared before age 7, appear in multiple settings, are at a level to impair functioning, and are not better explained by another diagnosis. These particular rules help to differentiate ADHD from the minor incidents of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that occasionally occur in people who have no disorder, and also to prevent misdiagnosis with other conditions that have overlapping symptoms.

Determining the three variants works like this:

The first set of criteria centers around inattention. Examples of the types of symptoms include: 

  • Easily distracted 
  • Forgetful 
  • Does not seem to listen 
  • Often loses things 
  • Makes "careless" mistakes

Six or more symptoms of inattention that occur over time and at a level that is disruptive and inappropriate is one variant. It is called ADHDâ€"Predominantly Inattentive Type. This has and is sometimes referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to distinguish that hyperactivity is not involved, but the term ADD is not included in the current diagnostic criteria (2000 Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-IV-TR).

The second set of criteria has two sections: the first concerns hyperactivity and the second concerns impulsivity. Examples of hyperactive behaviors include: 

  • Talks excessively 
  • When sitting, tends to fidget or squirm 
  • Does not stay seated when it is expected

Examples of impulsivity include: 

  • Has trouble waiting for a turn 
  • Often interrupts

Six or more symptoms in either of these categories, or both, that occur over time and at a level that is disruptive and inappropriate constitutes the second variant. It is called ADHD - Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type. If both sets of criteria are met over time, then the third diagnosis, ADHD - Combined Type is given.

What is ADHD Sources:

  • National Institute of Mental Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Pdf: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [Online]
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: ADHD- Making the Diagnosis [Online]
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