Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in Canada, affecting 4-6% of adults and 5-7% of children, or approximately 1.8 million Canadians. In other words, 1 of every 21 people in the country has the disorder.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common disorders among young people. It affects attention span and concentration and can also affect how impulsive and active the person is.

Most young people are, at times, inattentive, distractible, impulsive or highly active. They may have ADHD if such behaviours occur more frequently and are more severe than is considered average among young people of the same age or developmental level. A diagnosis of ADHD might also result if the behaviours persist over time and negatively affect the person’s family and his or her social and school life.

Studies have shown different rates of ADHD among young people, ranging from one per cent to 13 per cent. ADHD is three to four times more common in boys than girls.

Although aggression is not specifically a symptom of ADHD, the disorder is often diagnosed in young people who behave aggressively. Studies have not shown exactly how ADHD and aggression in young people are linked. Some behaviours that are not clearly defined symptoms of ADHD, but have been shown to be associated with it, may lead to aggression.

They include:

  • low tolerance for frustration
  • temper outbursts
  • emotional instability
  • stubbornness
  • conflicts with parents
  • problems with social skills
  • low self-esteem.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD fall into two main groups: inattentive behaviors and hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. Young people may be diagnosed with ADHD if, for the past six months or more, they have displayed six or more symptoms of either inattentive behaviors or hyperactive or impulsive behaviors.

Inattentive Behaviors

  • often doesn’t pay attention to details or makes what appear to be careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
  • usually has problems staying focused on work or activities
  • often doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to
  • frequently doesn’t follow through on instructions and doesn’t finish tasks
  • often has difficulty organizing tasks
  • usually doesn’t like to do tasks that call for ongoing thinking
  • often loses things
  • is often easily distracted
  • often forgets things

Hyperactive Behaviors

  • often fidgets and squirms in chair
  • often leaves seat when required to sit still
  • frequently runs or climbs excessively (or, for adolescents, feels restless)
  • often talks excessively
  • usually has difficulty playing quietly
  • is constantly in motion

Impulsive Behaviors

  • usually has problems waiting for a turn
  • regularly blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • often interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or games

Causes & Risk Factors

While there is no consensus about precisely what causes ADHD, it is believed that the most likely cause is genetics. Children born into families where there is a history of ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than children where there is no family history of ADHD. While there have been attempts to link parenting style, exposure to television at a young age and exposure to environmental hazards as a cause of ADHD, there has yet to be any conclusive evidence that they cause the disorder.

 Educators can design programs for young people with ADHD to encourage success rather than failure and to address any co-existing learning disabilities that students might have, such as difficulty with reading. A child who is diagnosed with ADHD and treated appropriately can have a productive and successful life.

If you work or volunteer with young people who have (or who you think might have) ADHD, these tips might be helpful:

  • Provide the person with as structured an environment and as predictable a routine as possible.
  • Clearly warn the person of any changes in routine in advance.
  • Provide a calm, quiet atmosphere without too many visual distractions.
  • Begin conversations by addressing the person directly, using eye contact; wait until he or she is paying attention before speaking.
  • Give instructions one step at a time, rather than issuing multiple requests at once. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you.
  • Provide clear and simple rules. Consider posting the rules somewhere visible.
  • Find out what the person is good at and incorporate this into activities.
  • Ask the person what he or she thinks will help.

In a classroom setting:

  • Provide short work periods.Break down assignments into small, manageable units.
  • Seat the student at the front of the class and away from distractions.
  • Give extra time for tests, and hand out one sheet of a multi-page test at a time.
  • Communicate each homework assignment a number of times, both verbally and in writing.
  • Have the student use a daily planner to keep a record of what he or she has done and still needs to do.
  • Encourage the student to use aids to deal with symptoms, such as earplugs to avoid distractions or a stress ball to play with instead of fidgeting.
  • For a younger child, assign simple errands, so that he or she can move around and feel useful.

There are many ways parents can help a child exhibiting symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder such as:

  • Providing consistency by following predictable routines for getting ready for school, homework, play, bedtime, etc.
  • Model and practice appropriate organizational skills and help your child maintain their organizational systems
  • Help your child use monthly calendars for planning after-school activities and when tests and assignments occur
  • Use timers as a visual reminder for your child when they need to complete a task
  • Give specific, concise directions to your child in positive ways (phrase directions as what do you want to happen rather than what you don't want to happen)
  • Help practice problem solving skills with your child
  • Give your child a chance to practice using appropriate social skills
  • Help your child make healthy food choices
  • Use encouragement and positive reinforcement