Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that
becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is
hard for these children to control their behavior and/or pay attention. It is
estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, or approximately 2
million children in the United States. This means that in a classroom of 25 to
30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD.
ADHD was first described by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman in 1845. A physician who
wrote books on medicine and psychiatry, Dr. Hoffman was also a poet who became
interested in writing for children when he couldn’t find suitable materials to
read to his 3-year-old son. The result was a book of poems, complete with
illustrations, about children and their characteristics. “The Story of Fidgety
Philip” was an accurate description of a little boy who had attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder. Yet it was not until 1902 that Sir George F. Still
published a series of lectures to the Royal College of Physicians in England in
which he described a group of impulsive children with significant behavioral
problems, caused by a genetic dysfunction and not by poor child rearing—children
who today would be easily recognized as having ADHD.1 Since then,
several thousand scientific papers on the disorder have been published,
providing information on its nature, course, causes, impairments, and
A child with ADHD faces a difficult but not insurmountable task ahead. In
order to achieve his or her full potential, he or she should receive help,
guidance, and understanding from parents, guidance counselors, and the public
education system. This document offers information on ADHD and its management,
including research on medications and behavioral interventions, as well as
helpful resources on educational options.
Because ADHD often continues into adulthood, this document contains a section
on the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in adults.
The principal characteristics of ADHD are inattention,
hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms
appear early in a child’s life. Because many normal children may have these
symptoms, but at a low level, or the symptoms may be caused by another disorder,
it is important that the child receive a thorough examination and appropriate
diagnosis by a well-qualified professional.
Symptoms of ADHD will appear over the course of many months, often with the
symptoms of impulsiveness and hyperactivity preceding those of inattention,
which may not emerge for a year or more. Different symptoms may appear in
different settings, depending on the demands the situation may pose for the
child’s self-control. A child who “can’t sit still” or is otherwise disruptive
will be noticeable in school, but the inattentive daydreamer may be overlooked.
The impulsive child who acts before thinking may be considered just a
“discipline problem,” while the child who is passive or sluggish may be viewed
as merely unmotivated. Yet both may have different types of ADHD. All children
are sometimes restless, sometimes act without thinking, sometimes daydream the
time away. When the child’s hyperactivity, distractibility, poor concentration,
or impulsivity begin to affect performance in school, social relationships with
other children, or behavior at home, ADHD may be suspected. But because the
symptoms vary so much across settings, ADHD is not easy to diagnose. This is
especially true when inattentiveness is the primary symptom.