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ADHD - medical information

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK.

ADHD affects between 3-9% of school-aged children and young people. Until recently, much higher numbers of boys were being diagnosed with ADHD, however it is now known that girls’ symptoms may present differently, and can go undiagnosed for this reason.

Symptoms of ADHD

  • Not everyone experiences ADHD in the same way. It is usually diagnosed by a medical expert, after observations and discussions with the child and family.
  • Some of the behaviours include a short attention span, restlessness, being easily distracted, and constant fidgeting.
  • To gain a diagnosis of ADHD the child or young person would generally display the behaviours consistently for at least a period of 6 months, be showing symptoms in a least two different settings, e.g. home and school.
  • Symptoms make life considerably difficult on a number of levels, i.e. socially and academically.
  • Overall the behaviours cannot be accounted for by it being a 'difficult phase'. While many of the behaviours linked to ADHD can be extremely disruptive to a class, it is important to remember that they are caused by a condition. Teachers could choose to use strategies to help a student manage their condition, please see the ‘Help at School’ section for some ideas.

Causes of ADHD

  • The exact cause of ADHD is not fully understood.
  • Possible causes include genetics, brain function, exposure to toxins during pregnancy, excessive exposure to television and food intolerance. ADHD is still more frequently diagnosed in boys, although diagnoses are increasing in girls.

Treatments for ADHD

  • There is no cure for ADHD, but it can be managed so that the condition is less of a problem in day-to-day life. 
  • There are several medical treatments for ADHD, all of which should be accompanied by psychological, educational and social therapies.
  • Medication can be prescribed by a psychiatrist and monitored by a GP.
  • The medication allows periods of time where someone with ADHD can concentrate better and be less impulsive; they may feel calmer and better able to learn new skills.
  • Programmes for children and families can also be helpful. For example, active social skills training can better equip a child or young person to manage socially and at school.
  • Parent training and education programmes can help families work together on behaviour management techniques. 
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy programmes (CBT) may help a child or young person manage their impulsive behaviour and help develop concentration skills.
  •  If you suspect that a child in your class has undiagnosed ADHD, then please speak to your SENCO.

See how parents Paul and Helen manage their son's ADHD.