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ADHD - what is it?

attention; deficit; hyperactivity; disorder; ADHD; ADD;

Information about Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

People with ADHD have trouble concentrating, especially when working, doing school work or when there is a lot going on around them. Their behaviour may cause problems at work, school and at home. Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD is not trying to cause trouble. ADHD makes it hard work to concentrate, stay still, be quiet and lots of other things.

We recommend that you look at the information on the Better Health Channel about ADHD. The Better Health Channel Is a website of the Government of Victoria, Australia.

South Australia

Further information can be sought from:

  • The Attention Disorders Association of SA (ADASA)
    302 South Road, Hilton SA 5033 
    Telephone: 8152 0187
    Fax: 8152 0447
    Email: admin@adasa.com.au
  • Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) SA
    Tel: 8223 7522
    Country callers 1800 182 179


What is ADHD?

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is sometimes also called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • People with ADHD usually find it hard to concentrate, especially when doing school work, and their behaviour may cause problems at school and at home.
  • Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD does not want to cause trouble.
  • Often ADHD is diagnosed in childhood, but many people live with ADHD without understanding why they are having difficulties.
  • ADHD doesn't just disappear as people get older, but often the problems become less difficult to manage and people can get better at concentrating and controlling their behaviour. There is more about this in the topic 'ADHD - how it can affect teenagers'.

Signs of ADHD

Someone might have ADHD if he has difficulties both at school and at home and has at least six of these problems:


The person often:

  • misses details or makes careless mistakes in her school-work or other activities
  • has trouble organising tasks and activities
  • loses things needed for tasks or activities, eg. toys, school assignments, pencils, books
  • has trouble sticking to tasks or play activities
  • does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • doesn't follow through instructions that she is able to understand
  • does not finish tasks, eg. at school, or chores at home
  • tries to get out of doing things that need a lot of thinking and concentrating
  • is easily distracted
  • is forgetful in daily activities.


The person often:

  • fidgets with his hands or feet, or squirms in his seat
  • leaves his seat in the classroom when he should be seated
  • runs about or climbs excessively (more than most others of his age)
  • has trouble playing or working quietly
  • is continually 'on the go'
  • talks 'all the time'
  • blurts out answers before the questions have been completed
  • has difficulty waiting for his turn
  • butts into conversations or games.


  1. Her behaviour is different from most other people of about the same age.
  2. The behaviours happen in more than one place, for example at home and school.
  3. The behaviour has lasted for more than 6 months.
  4. The behaviour pattern started before age 7 years.
  5. There are no other major health or development problems.
  6. The behaviour is causing problems with schoolwork, friends and daily living.

The last thing listed here is very important - the behaviour pattern must be interfering with the person's ability to get on with his life, to learn or to fit in with his or her world. If the behaviour of the child or young person is only a problem for the parents of the person, but the child or young person is managing well at school, then it is usually not ADHD. (Adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-IV).

What causes ADHD?

  • Despite more than 30 years of research worldwide, there is no clear explanation for why ADHD happens.
  • Some research has shown that the front part of the brain of someone with ADHD works a little differently compared to other people. This causes the brain to deal with information and feelings in a slightly different way.
  • Research has found that genes are a part of the reason for ADHD. It tends to 'run in families'.
  • However, the fact that medical experts don't have a clear explanation for ADHD doesn't mean that it does not exist - we simply have to wait for some of the answers.

What triggers 'out of control' behaviour

  • Some foods seem to trigger 'out of control' behaviour for some people with ADHD, but so do excitement (eg. being at a party), and 'stimulating environments' such as supermarkets, parties and noisy classrooms.

Assessment of ADHD

  • It's important to get as much information as possible before making any decisions about how someone is going to manage ADHD.
  • A complete assessment by a doctor should be made before trying any treatment.
  • Information should also be collected from the person, and his or her parents and teachers.

The ideal assessment would include:

  • finding out about behaviour and learning at school
  • doing vision and hearing checks
  • having an assessment by a psychologist to work out how the person learns, concentrates and manages different tasks
  • finding out about what is happening at home
  • finding out about how the person gets on with other young people
  • a family assessment, ie. who else might have had difficulties?

Brain scans and EEGs (Electro-encephalograms or brain wave tracings) are not helpful in working out whether a person has ADHD.

Some other problems such as specific learning problems (eg. dyslexia) and difficulties with coordination (eg. dyspraxia) often occur in people who have ADHD. The person may need to be checked for these too.

Josh says:

Being a teenager is pretty tough. You need to be pretty organised to keep up with everything. If you have ADHD, then being organised takes a lot of work. You can’t do it on your own. You need support from family, your doctor, your school and your friends. Our topic “ADHD - how it can affect teenagers” may help a bit.


South Australia

  • The Attention Disorders Association of SA (ADASA)
    302 South Road, Hilton SA 5033 
    Telephone: 8152 0187
    Fax: 8152 0447
    Email: admin@adasa.com.au
  • Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) SA
    - telephone: 8223 7522, country callers 1800 182 179


Further Reading

Royal Australasian College of Physicians

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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