What Is ADHD?

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition characterised by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. These symptoms are usually most noticeable at school, at work, or in social settings. While these symptoms start in childhood, they can continue through adolescence and into adulthood.

This is not a new condition; however, the term “ADHD” is relatively new. Fortunately, we know more about the condition now, both in terms of how the condition affects the brain and how to manage the symptoms.  In fact, behavioural symptoms have been recognised for many years and there are several proven methods to help minimise the effects.

How Common Is ADHD?

ADHD is not uncommon, so you or your friends may know many people living with the condition already.  “Prevalence” refers to how often the condition occurs in the general population. ADHD is one of the most prevalent neurological conditions in adults, occurring more frequently than other conditions.

  • Worldwide: ADHD affects about 5.29% of the world’s population (using DSM-IV criteria).
  • Europe: It is estimated that in the EU, 5% of children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 years (3.3 million) have ADHD.
  • UK: ADHD may persist into adulthood with around 15% retaining a full diagnosis by the age of 25, and a further 50% retaining some symptoms leading to continued impairments in daily life.

ADHD affects both boys and girls, though it is more commonly identified in boys than in girls. This is because it is more difficult to detect in girls since their behaviour tends to be less disruptive and more inattentive. Although ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls, the ratio of boys to girls with ADHD decreases as they progress into adulthood. In adults, the distribution of ADHD symptoms appears to be more similar across genders, although the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD remains more common in women.

What ADHD Is Not

ADHD is a neurological condition, which means it is a disorder of the body’s nervous system that affects a person’s behaviour. There are many myths and misunderstandings about this condition, and we are here to set the record straight:

  • ADHD is not a “childhood disease”.
  • ADHD is predominantly influenced by genetic factors.
  • Symptoms of ADHD can affect a person at school or work, but ADHD is not classified as a learning disorder. 
  • ADHD is not an “excuse” for unusual behaviour patterns.
  • A person does not have ADHD simply because he or she becomes distracted or engages in impulsive behaviour.
  • ADHD does not mean you are a bad person.
  • ADHD is not something you “grow out of”. 
  • ADHD does not have an influence on the intellectual level of a person.
  • People with ADHD do care about consequences.

The ADHD Stigma

Dealing with other people’s belief about ADHD can be challenging, especially when there is a lot of misinformation about ADHD on the internet. Many children with ADHD and their families wish for a better public understanding of the condition to relieve them of the stigma and negative assumptions that may come with a diagnosis of ADHD. Arming yourself with knowledge about what ADHD is – and what it isn’t – may help you to handle other people’s perceptions and improve both understanding and tolerance of the condition.

What to Do if You Think You or Someone Close to You Has ADHD

If the symptoms described here sound similar to what you or someone you care about are experiencing, speak to a doctor or healthcare professional. You may not have ADHD, but your doctor will be able to support you and help to develop a plan to address your concerns.

If you think a loved one may be experiencing symptoms similar to those described here, you may want to speak to a healthcare professional. This conversation will give you more information, so you can devise a plan to help encourage your loved one to seek medical advice. Many people are uncomfortable with the label of ADHD, because they do not understand the condition. Therefore, any initial conversations with your loved one should not discuss ADHD directly, but focus on the idea of getting support for symptoms.  A healthcare professional is the best person to discuss ADHD as a condition and provide a resulting diagnosis. Keep in mind that there is no simple test for ADHD, and a number of other conditions may have symptoms similar to ADHD.