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Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)
Health Guide
What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, commonly manifests itself in a child via a typical behavioural pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development. The prevalence of the disorder is estimated to be 3 - 5 % in school age children. However, prevalence in adolescence and adulthood is unknown due to limitations in current data. ADHD is known to occur in various cultures, with variations reported in western countries due to different diagnostic practices. With regards to familial patterning, ADHD is more commonly found in families with a history of the disorder.


Symptoms are classified into several subgroups: inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. With regards to diagnostic criteria, symptoms diagnosed must persist for at least 6 months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level of the child. Additionally, impairments from symptoms are present in two or more settings.

    ADHD children reveal inattentive behaviour commonly by failing to attend to details or by making careless mistakes in school work or other activities. Difficulty in adherence to instructions and rules may occur. Problems in task and activity organization may also arise, with the child often being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli. Quite often an avoidance or reluctance in engaging in tasks that require sustained mental effort appears. An ADHD child commonly loses tools or objects necessary for tasks or activities and may also exhibit forgetfulness in daily activities.

    Hyperactivity manifests itself in excessive motor activity in inappropriate situations, such as running, climbing, constantly leaving ones seat when he or she is meant to remain seated. Fidgeting with hands or feet, and squirming about in seat may also be observed. Additionally, excessive verbalization may be noted.

    Commonly, ADHD children interrupt or intrude on others, have difficulty awaiting their turn and often blurt out answers before questions have been completed.


The cause of ADHD is as yet unknown and possible hypotheses discuss biological, psychological factors. One of the more popular biological hypotheses examines hyperactivity occurring as a result of a genetic disorder. Evidence suggests that hyperactivity is more common in children that have first-degree biological relatives that in the past suffered from ADHD.

As an alternative to biological explanations of hyperactivity, some researchers have suggested that hyperactivity results from environmental activity. Associations of hyperactivity with familial stressors such as poverty, low education, marital discord and disruption, household disorganization have been postulated. Additionally, a link between the diet and some cases of ADHD has been proposed. The most likely explanation is that ADHD is caused by multiple factors where both biological and environmental factors may play a role.

ADHD Treatment
The most common treatments for hyperactivity are psychostimulant medication and behaviour therapy.

Ritalin is a popular psychostimulant used to treat children with attention deficit disorder with hyperkinesis. Short term improvement arises in approximately 75% of all hyperactive children that take psychostimulants such as Ritalin. The drug helps to balance the neurochemistry of the brain. This allows the child to focus better on tasks, shut out distractions and improves foresight.

As a result children become less impulsive, oppositional, disruptive and more manageable. In the USA 4-5% of all school children are estimated to be on the drug. In New Zealand this figure is much lower - less than 1% of all school children. 1996 Pharmac figures estimate approx

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