What is ADHD?

The common symptoms of ADHD, the different types of ADHD & how they can impact your life

ADHD Definition & Explanation

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that impacts the parts of the brain that help us plan, focus on, and execute tasks. ADHD symptoms vary by sub-type — inattentive, hyperactive, or combined — and are often more difficult to diagnose in girls and adults.

Neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research has found that ADHD is not a behaviour disorder. Nor is ADHD a mental illness. ADHD is also not a learning disability. ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brains self-management system. Both adults and children can be diagnosed with ADHD.

Attention deficit” is quite a misleading name. “Attention deregulation” might be a more accurate description as most people with ADHD have more than enough attention — they just can’t guide it in the right direction at the right time with any consistency. So when ADHD'ers hyperfocus and lose track of time, or misplace their keys, or blurt out something unrelated, is when their focus breaks free from its chains.

The world expert on ADHD - Dr Russell Barkley says “it is a disorder of doing, not a disorder of knowing. We know what to do, we just can’t do it."

People with ADHD Struggle with the following:

Executive Function

Tom Brown, PhD, one of the lead researchers on ADHD breaks executive functions down into six different “clusters.”

  1. Organizing, prioritizing and activating for tasks

  2. Focusing, sustaining and shifting attention to task

  3. Regulating alertness, sustaining effort and processing speed

  4. Managing frustration and modulating emotions

  5. Utilizing working memory and accessing recall

  6. Monitoring and self-regulating action

Processing Speed

A person with ADHD may be mentally foggy, underactive, slow moving, and lethargic. Their work is often slow and error prone. Their brain activity shows patterns of under arousal in the portion of the brain associated with focus and planning.

Working Memory

Working memory has the job of temporarily storing and manipulating several pieces of information, so it can be used to guide decisions and actions.

The information that enters your working memory doesn’t stay there long, typically only for seconds. But the more you focus, the longer it stays.

Even when you have an exceptional working memory, its capacity is limited.

The challenge of a poor working memory is greater as the instructions get more complex. You may ask your child to turn off the TV, wash their hands, and set the table for dinner. Then they may wash their hands but return to watching their program instead of setting the table. Theyre not being defiant; their brain just didn’t hold on to or process the instructions.

Working memory is the tool that lets you:

Pay attention

Follow instructions

Plan actions

Organise activities

Reach a goal

Schedule time

Stay on track

See how things fit together


ADHD symptoms are present when a physical part of the brain is not able to sufficiently produce enough or hold enough neurotransmitters - dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) - to function properly in the areas of attention and concentration regulation, impulse regulation, emotional regulation, working memory and executive functioning which includes prioritising and organising.

Not having enough of these brain chemicals means that you may not be satisfied or content, and you will have self regulation issues, feel restless, driven to distraction, may have an addictive personality and be impulsive. There are not enough brain chemicals to support certain wanted and intended action.

Dopamine is a chemical that provides motivation, task activation, persistence and strive for reward.

- ADHDers don’t get enough dopamine at the right times.

Serotonin is a chemical that regulates mood,food, sleep and calm, overall well-being.

- ADHDers don’t get enough serotonin at the right times.

- Anxiety = lack of serotonin. Anxiety can look like temper tantrum, refusal, opposition, aggression, violence, controlling behaviour, etc.

Noradrenaline helps the Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn responses.

- ADHDers don’t get enough noradrenaline at the right time.

Most people do an adequate job manufacturing their own neurotransmitters, however, the reason a person is diagnosed with ADHD is because they are consistently inadequate at producing enough of their own.

Sub Types of ADHD

There are three different ways ADHD can present, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual.

Symptoms can change over time, so the presentation may change over time as well.

Predominantly Inattentive

It is hard for the individual to organise or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.

Predominantly Hyperactive

They act “as if driven by a motor” with little impulse control. They are impulsive, impatient, and interrupt others.The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly.

The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.

Combined Presentation

Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

**The above information is a combination of important information and insight provided by The ADHD Whisperer, ADDitude, CHADD & CADDAC.



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