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What is ADHD?

By Dr. Rebecca Jackson

When people hear the term attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they often picture a 7-year-old boy bouncing off the walls and creating frequent disruptions in the classroom and at home. They may envision loud, boisterous behaviors that require constant reminders to stay on task, to complete and turn in their school work, and struggle to keep their hands and feet to themselves.

While this description can be accurate for some kids with ADHD, there is so much more to this condition than the disruptive behaviors that have become stereotypical symptoms. This general lack of understanding regarding the depth and breadth of the impact of ADHD has led to challenges — and individuals with ADHD are hurt the most by this misunderstanding. While ADHD is one of the most well-researched topics of childhood, there's still a lack of widespread understanding of the many nuances and impacts of ADHD, as well as awareness of options to help beyond medication and therapy.

It’s important to understand ADHD’s meaning and symptoms so the disorder doesn’t disrupt you or your child’s life. The impact of ADHD can be felt in relationships, school, work, and other daily activities. But you can minimize that impact by taking steps to manage the disorder and maximize your true potential.

Things You Should Know About ADHD

Here are some statistics that may help shed light on the scope of ADHD in America:

  • An estimated 9.8% of children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • The disorder can be difficult to diagnose in girls, as sometimes their symptoms present differently. In fact, boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD compared to girls.
  • About 6 in 10 children with ADHD also have a co-occurring mental or behavioral disorder such as anxiety or oppositional defiant disorder.
  • There are roughly 10 million cases of ADHD in adults.
  • ADHD isn’t one size fits all—there are actually three different types of the disorder.

Types of ADHD

An ADHD diagnosis typically falls into one of three categories based on the symptoms. Here’s a look at those classifications, along with their respective signs and symptoms of ADHD:

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

  • Inability to stay seated without fidgeting, squirming, or jumping out of the chair
  • Restless or excessive energy, as if powered by an outside source
  • Talking too much, to the point that it interrupts other people
  • Cutting in on other people’s activities or conversations
  • Children may not be able to play quietly or wait for their turn at games
  • Difficulty observing appropriate social or behavioral norms

Predominantly Inattentive

  • Distracted or daydreaming, especially in settings such as classrooms
  • Difficulty completing tasks or following instructions, resulting in careless mistakes
  • Lack of attention to details
  • Drifting off and not listening when being spoken to
  • Procrastinating on tasks 
  • Losing items or forgetting where they’ve been placed
  • Messiness or disorganization


  • This diagnosis occurs when someone has both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive ADHD symptoms.
  • ADHD symptoms can evolve and change, so a diagnosis classification may change, too.

Causes of ADHD

What causes hyperfocus ADHD, restlessness, or inattentiveness? ADHD can’t be pinned down to a specific cause, though family history of the disorder may play a role. In addition to genetics, environmental factors may also be an influence. For instance, exposure to pollutants while in the womb may increase an infant’s future risk of ADHD.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found in a recent study that, contrary to the traditional belief that specific brain regions are responsible for various learning disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder, it is the connectivity between brain hubs that plays a much more critical role. Analyzing brain scans and cognitive data from nearly 479 children through machine learning, the researchers discovered that well-connected hubs were associated with either very specific or no cognitive difficulties, while poorly connected hubs led to widespread and severe cognitive problems. This insight challenges the effectiveness of interventions based on diagnostic labels and suggests a more holistic approach focusing on improving cognitive competencies and reducing working memory demands.

Do Kids Outgrow ADHD?

Decades ago ADHD was considered a childhood disorder. That definition has now been modified to state that ADHD is a lifespan disorder as differences in brain structure, and increased challenges with attentional control, emotional regulation, and executive functions persist into adulthood. As kids and adults continue to mature they can become more aware of their strengths and challenges and can become more adept at utilizing strategies to help them succeed, but these strategies do not change the structural differences in the brain. The bottom line is that while ADHD symptoms and challenges can change from childhood, into the teen years and adulthood, for most individuals kids do not outgrow ADHD. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

What type of disorder is your ADHD? You can find out through diagnostic testing. However, there’s no standard test for everyone. A clinician may use several tools, including a medical exam and vision and hearing tests, to rule out other issues. An evaluation can incorporate:

  • Your health history, as well as your family’s
  • ADHD checklists for reviewing your symptoms
  • Psychological testing
  • Reports from people who can attest to your symptoms (family members, teachers, therapists, etc.)

Once testing is complete, you should receive a report with the results and a diagnosis—if one can be made. At that point, learning as much as possible about your type of ADHD and options for managing it is beneficial.

Typical treatment methods usually include medication and therapy. The type of medication and dosage varies from person to person, depending on their symptoms, but some people may be unable to take medication. Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is also sometimes used to help establish positive thought and behavior patterns.

While medication can help some aspects of ADHD, medication alone can't impact all areas of ADHD. Nor is the effect of medication universal. Some individuals respond better than others, both in terms of the positive effects and negative side effects. While studies have indicated an increase in sustained attention and an increase in seated work time in the classroom with fewer disruptions, the jury is out on whether medication impacts long-term learning outcomes. 

Additionally, you may want to look into lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms. For example, if you are sensitive to loud noise or bright light, you might be wondering what is causing ADHD overstimulation?  In this case, you may avoid crowded events that trigger this symptom. A nutritious diet, good sleep habits, and decreased screen time can also ease symptoms. 

There is hope for the future. Brain Balance can help you or your child find success. Our program addresses ADHD in kids and adults with a holistic approach customized to each individual. Our integrated program helps build new brain pathways and strengthens connections through physical and sensory exercises, cognitive training, and nutritional guidance. Research on the Brain Balance Program outcomes is consistently demonstrating reductions in the symptoms of ADHD, across the multiple domains impacted. Attention, cognition, behavior, emotional regulation and executive functions demonstrate measurable gains as reported by parents, teachers, and clinicians. The largest improvements are consistently seen in the areas of improved inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.     

Let’s talk if you want to know more about what ADHD is, how our program works, and its ability to create positive change. Contact us if you or your child has an ADHD diagnosis—or even if you think ADHD may be an issue. 


Dr. Rebecca Jackson

Chief Programs Officer

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