What Is ADHD?

Everyone has trouble at times with paying attention, listening, or waiting. But people with ADHD have trouble with these things almost all the time. They're not doing it on purpose. ADHD is a medical condition that affects a person's attention and self-control.

Because of ADHD, people have a harder time staying focused. They may be more fidgety than others. ADHD can make it harder to control behavior, so kids and teens may get into trouble more. ADHD can affect how they get along with other people.

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That's the medical term for difficulties with attention and self-control that can make someone fidget and move around a lot.

What Are the Signs of ADHD?

People with ADHD might:

  • have trouble listening and paying attention 
  • need lots of reminders to do things
  • get distracted easily
  • seem absent-minded
  • be disorganized and lose things
  • not sit still, wait their turn, or be patient
  • rush through homework or other tasks or make careless mistakes
  • interrupt a lot, and talk or call out answers in class
  • do things they shouldn't, even though they know better
  • feel restless, fidgety, frustrated, and bored

If someone has a lot of these signs, and the problems happen most of the time, it might be ADHD.

This picture shows a teen talking to his mom with the caption, "Ask your mom or dad for support."

How Do Doctors Tell if a Person Has ADHD?

Deciding if someone has ADHD starts with a doctor visit. There are no lab tests or blood tests for ADHD. Doctors are trained to know what signs to look for.

If you go to a doctor to get checked out for ADHD, the doctor will ask about what's going on in your life and at school. The doctor will ask things like if you have trouble doing homework, sitting still, slowing down, or listening — and how long that's been going on.

The doctor will check to make sure another health or learning issue is not the cause. The doctor will probably ask your parents and teachers to fill out checklists about signs they may have noticed.

How Is ADHD Treated?

If a doctor finds out you have ADHD, you will get treatment to help. This can be a big relief. It can be hard to feel like you're always struggling with things that others seem to have no trouble doing.

To help teens with ADHD, doctors might:

Prescribe medicine. Medicine can boost the brain's ability to pay attention, slow down, and be more patient.

Provide therapy. Therapists can help people learn attention skills, cope with feelings, and gain self-control. They can help people with ADHD see the best in themselves and figure out how to use their strengths.

Help parents learn what to do. Parents play a big part in ADHD care. They can help teens do things like listen better or be more organized. Parents can also give encouragement, love, and support.

It's not just doctors and parents who help teens with ADHD. Sometimes schools give students a learning plan called an IEP that's designed just for them.

Teachers can also do these things to help teens with ADHD do well in class:

  • Break schoolwork into parts.
  • Help students organize their things.
  • Make sure students sit where they are less likely to be distracted, like away from a window or door.
  • Give students quick breaks to get up and move during class.

There are things that people with ADHD can do to help themselves too, like:

  • Eat healthy food.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Be active every day.
  • Practice mindfulness exercises and breathing exercises.

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD is caused by differences in the brain's ability to pay attention, slow down, and be patient. It's not clear why these differences happen, but doctors know that ADHD is in a person's genes. Most teens with ADHD have a parent or relative who also has it.

ADHD is not caused by eating too much sugar or anything else a person does.

What's It Like for People With ADHD?

Having ADHD can be difficult sometimes. Kids and teens may get scolded for things they can't help — like not listening, losing their temper, or doing things too fast. That can make people feel bad about themselves or mistakenly blame themselves for ADHD. But ADHD is not your fault.

Parents, teachers, and therapists can help you get better at paying attention, slowing down, and gaining self-control. They can teach you to use your strengths and energy in good ways. With the right help and support, people with ADHD can improve their attention and self-control, do well in school and activities, and feel good about themselves.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.