Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the term used to identify a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity.

There are three possible diagnoses according to what symptoms are mainly present:

  • ADHD inattentive presentation (it is sometimes also called “ADD”), where the majority of symptoms are inattentive.
  • ADHD hyperactive/impulsive presentation; here the majority of symptoms is hyperactivity and/or impulsive symptoms.
  • ADHD combined presentation; in this case the patient has significant number of both hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive symptoms.

Very often, individuals with ADHD also suffer from other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and other neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD.

Some of the inattentive symptoms might include: distractibility from external noise and/or own thoughts, problems in focusing and concentrating on tasks and/or conversations, getting easily bored, losing and/or misplacing things, poor sense of time, procrastination. Some of the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms might include: internal feeling of restlessness, difficulties to relax, fidgeting or moving hands or legs in restless manner, blurting out answers before questions have been completed, interrupting others during conversations, being always busy doing something/always on the move, difficulties waiting (e.g. cues, traffic jam etc…), being impatient, being risk prone.

In order to classify behaviours as symptoms they must be pervasive and “intense” to create impairment. For example, everybody at some point might have misplaced his wallet, or forgot an appointment, but if those behaviours are frequent enough to start to create problems in your life, then those behaviours are classified as symptoms. Moreover, you need to have a certain number of symptoms in order to trigger a diagnosis of ADHD, and those symptoms do not have to be the result of other mental health conditions or be the result of current life situations (e.g. problems at work, stressful life events etc…). Finally, type and severity of the symptoms can change over time and be modulated by life contingencies, but they have to be always present. Indeed, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition with childhood/adolescence onset that by definition cannot “switch on” and “switch off”. With time however, someone with ADHD can outgrow the disorder and be defined “in remission”.

Unfortunately there is no test for ADHD for a diagnosis, a detailed assessment needs to take place with a clinician (Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist, or also a paediatrician if the patient is a kid) with specialist training and expertise in adult ADHD. A comprehensive clinical interview, rating scales and when possible informants are used to assess for ADHD and other mental health conditions that might mimic ADHD. In order to gather all the information needed to reach a diagnostic conclusion, the assessment cannot really be less than 2 hours long.