Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD): It is estimated that between 3% and 5% of school-aged children are affected by Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The basic symptoms of ADD are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. On occasion, most people experience difficulty with paying attention, controlling impulsive behavior, or sitting still. What sets people with ADD apart, is the degree or frequency that they experience these symptoms. Their daily lives are interfered with by the persistence of these symptoms.
ADD is now divided into two categories, identified as either Inattentive or Hyperactive form. Symptoms of ADD appear before the age of 7 years and interfere with the individuals ability to function normally within the home, at school, and within the community. It was once thought that children out-grow ADD and as adults are unaffected by it. However, more recently researchers are recognizing that symptoms persist into adulthood. Diagnosis has been made easier due to the formation of diagnostic tools developed by psychological researchers.
Signs and Symptoms
A person is considered to have ADD if he or she demonstrates symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention for at least 6 months in at least two settings (such as at home and in school). The signs and symptoms listed below are typically seen in children with ADD and usually appear before age seven. In order to diagnose ADD in adults, psychologists have developed specialized tests. These tools in conjunction with a thorough history serve to identify the existence of ADD.
Symptoms of Inattention
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
- Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Is forgetful in daily activities
- Loses things necessary for tasks or activities
Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
- Leaves seat in situations where remaining seated is expected
- Runs or climbs excessively in inappropriate situations (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
- Has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
- Acts as if "driven by a motor
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers before questions are completed
- Has difficulty awaiting turn
- Interrupts or intrudes on others
The cause of ADD is unknown, although genetic factors are thought to be involved. MRI's of the brain have shown differences between the brains of children with ADD and children without ADD. Children with ADD more often have altered brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. It is believed that irregularities in this area impair a person’s ability to control impulsive and hyperactive behaviors.
Research has shown that children demonstrating hyperactive behavior have increased theta wave (slow-wave) activity in the brain. This is the reason that many are prescribe stimulant types of medications. It is believed that stimulating the brain decreases theta wave activity resulting in an increase in the person’s ability to control impulses and a slowing of hyperactivity. Other studies indicate that symptoms associated with ADD may be caused by abnormally low levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is responsible for mental and emotional functioning. Additionally, there appears to be a correlation between low levels of dopamine and depression.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated June 2015.