Updated: Jul 16
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children and adolescents. The prevalence of ADHD in Australia is between 6% and 10%. ADHD is a neurobiological developmental disorder which affects a child’s ability to exert age-appropriate self-control. It is characterised by persistent patterns of inattentive, impulsive, and sometimes hyperactive behaviour, and is frequently accompanied by emotional regulation challenges. There are three types of ADHD - primarily hyperactive and impulsive, primarily inattentive and a combined presentation.
Children with ADHD can be easily distracted, inattentive, forgetful, hyperactive, disorganised, talkative, have trouble listening, experience difficulty sleeping, have poor time management and low frustration tolerance. They have little control over these behaviours as they stem from underlying neurological differences. Children with ADHD have trouble with the management system of their brains which are referred to as executive functions. Their difficulties arise due to an impaired ability to inhibit and regulate attention, behaviour and emotions; to reliably recall information in the moment; to plan and problem solve; to self-reflect and self-monitor; and to self-soothe.
To understand the impact of the condition, it can be helpful for parents to view a child with ADHD as having delayed executive functions. Depending on ADHD severity, this delay can be around 30% compared to their peers of the same age. For example, if a child is ten, he or she has the self-control and executive functions of a seven year old. As such, parents may have to adjust their expectations to meet the approximate developmental level of their child’s self-regulation, independence, self-care, adaptive functioning, and other domains of life that children are required to master as they develop self-control.
It is important for parents to understand ADHD it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause functional disability in all areas of life and throughout their lifespan. Without the appropriate interventions, it can result in significantly unfavourable life outcomes such as reduced academic performance and difficulties with peers relationships. Treatment for ADHD can include pharmacological and non-pharmacological options. Pharmacological treatment is often the most effective in reducing core ADHD symptoms. In Australia, medical treatment for ADHD is provided by a paediatrician or psychiatrist.
Non-pharmacological treatments for ADHD are also usually required to provide additional support to minimise the daily impact of symptoms and associated difficulties. These can include adjustments to lifestyle factors including sleep, diet and physical activity. In some cases, parent and family training can assist with supporting children who have ADHD. Cognitive behavioural therapy provided by a qualified psychologist can be helpful for children and adolescents manage their symptoms and behaviours. ADHD coaching is an additional non-pharmacological option that can be helpful for adolescents to develop strategies by building on their individual strengths and resources.
An additional consideration for parents to understand is that ADHD often co-occurs with other disorders. The most common co-occurring conditions in childhood are specific learning disorders such as Dyslexia, oppositional defiant disorder, language disorders, autism spectrum disorders and anxiety disorders. It is important any comorbid conditions are evaluated and addressed through the appropriate treatments and supports.
There are many positives to having ADHD and individuals with ADHD often exhibit numerous strengths. Parents can focus on developing and nurturing these areas of talent and strength in their children. Common ADHD strengths include being empathetic, energetic, spontaneous, adventurous, intuitive, imaginative, creative, inventive, innovative, enthusiastic, athletic, able to hyper focus on interests, and demonstrate good problem solving abilities. There are many famous and successful people with ADHD. These include Michael Jordan, Richard Branson, Michael Phelps, Celeste Barber, Simone Biles and Emma Watson. With evidence-based treatment and support, people with ADHD can embrace their strengths and interests, learn to manage their challenges and live a full and rewarding life.
Butterfly Psychology for Kids conducts ADHD assessments with children and adolescents aged 6-16 years. The assessment can identify if symptoms of ADHD are evident. An assessment can also evaluate common co-occurring disorders and difficulties including anxiety symptoms and specific learning disorders such as Dyslexia. The diagnosis of ADHD will need to be confirmed by a paediatrician and the information gathered in the assessment can assist the paediatrician with their evaluation. For more information click here
Information adapted from:
Australian Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder -1st Edition, 2022 www.adhdguideline.aadpa.com.au
ADHD Australia www.adhdaustralia.org.au
ADHD in Children: Diagnosis, Assessment, and Management (Barkley, R.)