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ADHD: What Is It?

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “one of the most common mental disorders affecting children” and “also affects many adults.” It has three subtypes:

  1. Primarily hyperactive-impulsive
  2. Primarily inattentive (formerly ADD)
  3. Combined

Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

The primarily hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD is characterized by high activity, difficulty slowing down, and impulsive behaviors, such as talking, interrupting, fidgeting, and risk-taking. People with this type struggle to stay on task.

Recognized Symptoms

  • Always “on the go”
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Fidgets or squirms
  • Finds it difficult to engage in quiet tasks and activities
  • Interrupts others and blurts out answers or responses
  • Impatient
  • Restless
  • Struggles to sit still
  • Takes risks or acts out of turn without thinking about the consequences
  • Talks constantly
  • Touches or plays with objects (even when inappropriate)

Inattentive Type

The primarily inattentive type of ADHD, formerly known as ADD, is characterized by being easily distracted. People with this type often have poor concentration and struggle with organizational skills.

Recognized Symptoms

  • Appears to “space out” or not listen
  • Daydreams or seems to move slowly
  • Easily distracted
  • Gets bored quickly
  • Has difficulty with time management
  • Learning new information is difficult
  • Loses needed items for completing a task
  • Misses details
  • Organizing thoughts is difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible
  • Processes new information slower and less accurately
  • Struggles to focus on a single task
  • Struggles to follow directions

Combined Type

The combined type of ADHD is, as the term suggests, a combination of hyperactive-impulse and inattentiveness. People with this type do not fall exclusively into one category or the other but instead, exhibit a combination of characteristics from both groups.

Is ADHD New?

Healthline published a medically reviewed timeline of ADHD. The first confirmed mention of the condition dates back to 1902. Sir George Still, a British pediatrician, noted that, while intelligent, some children couldn’t control their behavior like a typical child. He described it as “an abnormal defect of moral control.”

Some documentation suggesting ADHD-like behaviors date back as far as the 1700s.

The Rise in ADHD Diagnosis in America

According to, approximately 6.4 million children in America have been diagnosed with ADHD. In the past eight years, ADHD diagnosis has increased by 42%.

Roughly 8 million adults in America have ADHD.

The uptick in ADHD diagnosis correlates with improved medical understanding and diagnostics, in particular the revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since its inception in 1952.

How ADHD is Diagnosed

The DSM-5 is currently used in the United States to diagnose both children and adults. It contains a detailed diagnostic evaluation.

A medical professional will first work to rule out other conditions that may present similar symptoms to ADHD. These can include anxiety, depression, and certain sleep disorders.

A person must exhibit at least six of the nine symptoms in the DSM-5 to be diagnosed with either primarily hyperactive-impulsive or primarily inattentive type ADHD. A diagnosis of combined type requires at least six symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive behaviors. Symptoms must present for at least six months and interfere with everyday life.


ADHD symptoms can change over time.

For example, children initially diagnosed as hyperactive-impulsive type may “grow out” of the hyperactivity and impulse control challenges due to proper treatment, learning to copy and manage, and natural maturing. As adults, they may fall into the inattentive or combined types.

Adults can also experience shifts in their ADHD symptoms. For example, a primarily inattentive type might shift to combined type as life stressors impact their wellbeing.

Reevaluation is important to both treatment and wellbeing.

ADHD Treatment

Medication is a long-standing cornerstone of ADHD treatment. Research shows stimulants and some non-stimulant medications can help people with ADHD manage various symptoms. But medication alone is not always successful.

Successful treatment often includes medication, therapy, and continued support.

Therapy can help a person learn how their brain works and how to manage the behavioral symptoms of their ADHD best. Cognitive behavioral therapy is proving to be very successful for both children and adults.


The key to successfully living with ADHD is to learn how to recognize and best manage its symptoms. While it never truly “goes away” or is “cured,” it is manageable.

#ADHDers can live life to its fullest.


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