Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – Staying focused is too tough

ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder refers to a range of psychological problems like poor concentration, constant activity, being easily distracted, impulsivity or a combination of all of them. However, a person is said to be suffering from ADHD only when the behavior reaches abnormal levels with respect to age and development and is disruptive at home or school or other setting.

ADHD and the risk factors

  • Premature birth
  • History of ADHD among parents or siblings
  • Environmental toxin exposure. For example, exposure to lead found in paint and pipes in old buildings.
  • Substance abuse by mother during pregnancy
  • Alcoholism or smoking during pregnancy by women
  • Exposure of pregnant women to environmental poisons like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)


  • Poor focus or inattentiveness
  • Excessive activity or hyperactivity
  • Uncontrolled behavior or impulsivity

Inattention Symptoms

  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores
  • Has problems organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork)
  • Often loses toys, assignments, pencils, books, or tools needed for tasks or activities
  • Is easily distracted, daydreams often
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities
  • Devotes no attention to details or makes thoughtless mistakes in schoolwork
  • Difficulty in concentration in a particular task or during play
  • Doesn’t seem to listen during face to face conversations

Hyperactivity Symptoms

  • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat when remaining seated is expected
  • Runs about or climbs in inappropriate situations
  • Has problems playing or working quietly
  • Is often “on the go,” acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talks excessively

Impulsivity Symptoms

  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others (butts into conversations or games)
Some people with ADHD have mainly inattentive symptoms. Some have mainly hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Others have a combination of different symptom types. Those with mostly inattentive symptoms are sometimes said to have attention deficit disorder (ADD). They tend to be less disruptive and are more likely not to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Should I be evaluated for adult ADD / ADHD?

If you have significant problems with any of the following categories, you may want to get evaluated for ADD/ADHD:
  • Job or career: losing or quitting jobs frequently
  • Work or school: not performing up to your capacity or ability
  • Day-to-day tasks: inability to do household chores, pay bills on time, organize things
  • Relationships: forgetting important things, being unable finish tasks, getting upset over little things
  • Emotions: having ongoing stress and worry because you don’t meet goals and responsibilities

Making the ADD / ADHD diagnosis

ADD/ADHD looks different in every person, so there is a wide array of criteria—or measures for testing—to help health professionals reach a diagnosis. It is important to be open and honest with the specialist conducting your evaluation so that he or she can come to the most accurate conclusion.

Important factors in the diagnosis

To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, you or your child must display a combination of strong ADD/ADHD hallmark symptoms, namely hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. The mental health professional assessing the problem will also look at the following factors:
  • How severe are the symptoms? To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, the symptoms must have a negative impact on you or your child’s life. In general, people who truly have ADD/ADHD have major problems in one or more areas of their life, such as their career, finances, or family responsibilities.
  • When did the symptoms start ? Since ADD/ADHD starts in childhood, the doctor or therapist will look at how early the symptoms appeared. If you are an adult, can you trace the symptoms back to your childhood?
  • How long have the symptoms been bothering you or your child? Symptoms must have been going on for at least 6 months before ADD/ADHD can be diagnosed.
  • When and where do the symptoms appear? The symptoms of ADD/ADHD must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and school. If the symptoms only appear in one environment, it is unlikely that ADD/ADHD is to blame.

Co-existing conditions and ADD / ADHD

It is important to understand that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis does not rule out other mental health conditions. The following disorders are not part of an ADD/ADHD diagnosis but sometimes co-occur with ADD/ADHD, or get confused with it:
  • Anxiety – Excessive worry that occurs frequently and is difficult to control. Symptoms include feeling restless or on edge, easily fatigued, panic attacks, irritability, muscle tension, and insomnia.
  • Depression – Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, helpless, and self-loathing, as well as changes in sleep and eating habits and a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Learning disabilities – Problems with reading, writing, or mathematics. When given standardized tests, the student’s ability or intelligence is substantially higher than his or her achievement.
  • Substance abuse – The impulsivity and behavioral issues that often go along with ADD/ADHD can lead to alcohol and drug problems.

Getting help

Managing ADD/ADHD takes work. Finding the right treatments for you or your child is a process—one that takes time, persistence, and trial and error. But you can help yourself along the way by keeping the following concepts in mind: much as you can about ADD/ADHD, getting plenty of support, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
  • ADD/ADHD is treatable. Don’t give up hope. With the right treatment and support, you or your child will be able to get the symptoms of ADD/ADHD under control and build the life that you want.
  • Treatment is your own responsibility. It’s up to you to take action to manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Health professionals can help, but ultimately, the responsibility lies in your own hands.
  • Learning all you can about ADD/ADHD is key. Understanding the disorder will help you make informed decisions about all aspects of your or your child’s life and treatment.
  • Support makes all the difference. While treatment is up to you, support from others can help you stay motivated and get you through tough times.

Your role as a parent of an ADHD child

When seeking a diagnosis for your child, you are your child’s best advocate and most important source of support. As a parent in this process, your roles are both emotional and practical. You can provide or ensure:
  • emotional support for your child during the diagnostic process
  • the right choice of specialist for your child
  • unique and helpful information for doctors/specialists
  • open and honest answers to questions about your child’s history and current adjustment
  • speed and accuracy of evaluation, and a second opinion if necessary.
Keep in mind that the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, such as concentration problems and hyperactivity, can be confused with other disorders and medical problems. Just because it looks like ADD/ADHD doesn’t mean it is, so getting a thorough assessment and diagnosis is important.

Top ADHD psychiatrists for adults and children

Dr. Yalda Safai, MD, MPH Psychiatrist

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Years in Practice: 6+
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Dr. Joann Mundin, MD Psychiatrist

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Dr. Barbara Huynh, DO Psychiatrist

Dr. Barbara Huynh, DO

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