You may have heard of ADHD as a joke about a jittery co-worker who’s “hyper” or a forgetful friend “having ADD.” You may have even heard talks about the debate over the number of kids who take Ritalin or other meds for ADHD. But exactly what is ADHD?
A strict medical definition can help parents understand what their child is facing, and also differentiate between actual ADHD and a child (or adult) who is high-energy, impatient or has ADD without the “H,” which is the hyperactive component.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a government organization, the initials ADHD stand for “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”
- Inattention is characterized by wandering off task. A person displaying inattention also “lacks persistence, has difficulty sustaining focus, and is disorganized,” NIMH noted, “and these problems are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension.”
- Hyperactivity is identified as a person who seems to move about constantly, or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks, according to NIMH. “In adults, it may be extreme restlessness or wearing others out with constant activity.”
- Impulsivity involves a person making hasty actions in the moment without first thinking about them, especially if the actions are potentially harmful. Another characteristic of impulsivity is a desire for immediate rewards or an inability to delay gratification, NIMH said.
Who’s at risk?
Even the NIMH, which is the leading federal agency for mental health research, admitted that scientists don’t fully understand what causes ADHD. They have identified numerous factors that contribute to a child’s odds of having ADHD, including the following:
- Genes, meaning some aspects of ADHD may be attributed to inherited traits
- A mother who smoked cigarettes, or used alcohol or certain drugs during pregnancy
- A fetus’ exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead, at a young age
- Low birth weight