ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK and tends to start at an early age.

In this article:

What is ADHD?


Advice & Support


Effect on your life



What is ADHD?

ADHD mainly affects children (3–9 per cent of school-aged children and young people in the UK) and consists of a combination of hyperactivity and an inability to concentrate on anything for more than a very short period of time.

Boys are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD than girls. However, behavioural psychologists suggest that this may be because of some differences in behaviour between genders (see Symptoms section below).


The symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe, and include:

persistent restlessness

excessive impulsiveness

excessive inattention

being easily distracted

constant fidgeting

an inability to ‘wait your turn’ in situations where this is required, and

a tendency to become withdrawn and ‘dreamy’ (behaviour usually displayed by girls with ADHD, rather than boys, whose overall behaviour is livelier)

Other problems children with ADHD may have to cope with include:

sleep disorders

low self-esteem

learning difficulties, and

a tendency towards anxiety and depression

Symptoms usually become apparent at around the age of five.


The exact cause of ADHD is as yet unknown. However, in-depth research consisting of clinical interviews, trials and observational psychological studies into ADHD have led to the following suggestions as being possible causes as to why some children develop the condition:

Genetics – an inherited imbalance of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit nerve signals to the brain). Usually a parent or a close relative also has the condition.

Diet – some food additives can aggravate hyperactive behaviour (these can be found in foods like ice cream and confectionery).

Antenatal and Obstetric problems – premature babies and babies with a low birth weight can be prone to developing ADHD, as can babies of mothers who smoke, drink alcohol and use recreational drugs during pregnancy.

Severe deprivation – where maternal deprivation occurs in the child’s early ‘mother–infant’ attachment stage.


If your child is displaying the aforementioned symptoms and you suspect that they may have ADHD then make an appointment with your GP to confirm an accurate diagnosis. (Please note: it may be that your child’s school will first raise the issue regarding your child’s hyperactive behaviour and inability to concentrate.)

Your GP will make a diagnostic assessment which may include:

a discussion with your child

a physical examination (to rule out other possible cause such as thyroid problems)

memory tests, and

problem-solving skills

If your GP diagnoses ADHD, your child will be referred to a specialist who will be able to recommend appropriate treatment and advise you how you can best cope with and manage your child’s condition.

Effect on your life

Having a hyperactive child can be exhausting. They may be unable to sit still, especially in quiet and calm surroundings. They may also display excessive physical movement and find it almost impossible to settle to any kind of tasks at all. They might also run anywhere – even where/when it is completely inappropriate.

If your child suffers from ADHD, don’t despair. There are lots of people in your situation. There is also a lot of help out there and strategies you can use to make coping easier as time passes. What’s more, many parents of children with ADHD find that their child is often singled out as being particularly charismatic, creative, lively and infectiously energetic – a positive child for other children to be around.


As yet, ADHD cannot be cured. However, there are drug and non-drug treatment options that can help greatly. These can include a parent training programme where you can learn techniques and strategies to help you cope with and manage your child’s condition, with a view to improving your family’s daily life overall.

Medication can definitely also help some children (where parent training proves unsuccessful), with Ritalin being the main one prescribed in the UK. Ritalin helps improve concentration levels and reduces hyperactive behaviour in children.

Note: Make your trips to the supermarket with your child short; watch only short films at the cinema with them; and always choose activities where your child will not have to sit for long periods.

Activities where your child gets to burn up energy for a while before needing to knuckle down for an hour or so can be a good idea. For example, many parents find that taking their child climbing can result in the child being better able to concentrate on things like homework for an hour or two when they return home.

It can also be useful to help your child understand why they behave as they do.

Advice & Support
National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service
Tel: 020 8952 2800

Hyperactive Children’s Support Group
Tel. 01243 539 966

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