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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

attention; deficit; hyperactivity; disorder; ADHD; ADD; attention deficit disorder;youth; young; people; adolescent.;

Information about Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

People with ADHD have trouble concentrating, especially when working, doing school work or when there is a lot going on around them. Their behaviour may cause problems at work, school and at home. Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD is not trying to cause trouble. ADHD makes it hard work to concentrate, stay still, be quiet and lots of other things.

We recommend that you look at the information on the Better Health Channel about ADHD. The Better Health Channel Is a website of the Government of Victoria, Australia.

South Australia

Further information can be sought from:

  • The Attention Disorders Association of SA (ADASA)
    302 South Road, Hilton SA 5033 
    Telephone: 8152 0187
    Fax: 8152 0447
    Email: admin@adasa.com.au
  • Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) SA
    Tel: 8223 7522
    Country callers 1800 182 179


ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is sometimes also called ADD.   People with ADHD have trouble concentrating, especially when doing school work or when there is a lot going on around them. Their behaviour may cause problems at school and at home.  Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD  is not trying to cause trouble.  ADHD makes it hard work to concentrate, stay still, be quiet and lots of other things.

What is ADHD?

  • People with ADD and ADHD find it hard to concentrate on what they are doing (problems with attention).
  • ADD, standing for Attention Deficit Disorder, means that the person has difficulty concentrating, but not with controlling their behaviour.
  • ADHD is similar but with hyperactive (over active) behaviour. They have trouble sitting still for example.
  • It seems that an area of brain that regulates behaviour and attention works differently for people with these conditions.

ADD or ADHD don't just disappear as a person gets older, but usually the problems become less marked and the person can get better at controlling her behaviour.

These days people with ADHD usually have their problems recognised during their primary school years, However many people live with ADHD without understanding why they are having difficulties.

Signs of ADHD

Detailed information about the signs of ADHD are in the Parenting and Child Health topic called ADD and ADHD - what are they?

A person might have ADD or ADHD if they have many difficulties with attention, hyperactivity (over activity), impulsivity (talking all the time, difficulty waiting and taking turns) and the behaviour problems started when the child was young (before 7 years old), and the behaviours are present in several different places (eg at school as well as at home).

The behaviour also needs to be causing problems with school work, friends and daily living.

What causes ADHD?

  • It seems that part of the reason why a person has ADHD is genetic (it is inherited, or "runs in families"). This is not the whole reason, because not everyone in a family will have the problem.
  • There seems to be a problem with how the front part of the brain works. This causes the brain to deal with information and feelings in a different way.
  • Even though there is not a clear explanation for ADHD it is a real problem.

What triggers 'out of control' behaviour

  • Some foods seem to trigger 'out of control' behaviour for some people with ADHD but so does excitement (eg being at a party).
  • Stimulating environments such as super markets, parties and noisy classrooms, are all triggers for some people.

Assessment of ADHD

  • It's important to get as much information as possible before making any decisions about how to manage the difficulties.
  • There is detailed information about assessing someone to see if their difficulties are due to ADD or ADHD in the topic ADD and ADHD - what are they? 
  • A complete assessment should be made before trying any remedies.

The assessment should include: 

  • Your behaviour and how you are getting on at school or work
  • Vision and hearing checks
  • Psychology assessments to work out how you manage different tasks
  • Reviewing what is happening at home
  • Looking at how you get on with other young people
  • A family assessment.

How ADHD can affect young people

People with ADHD may not do as well at school are they are capable of, because it is so hard to concentrate and stay still. 

  • School work gets harder as you get older and it may become more and more difficult to keep up with the work.
  • If no-one knows they have ADHD it may mean that they do not get the special help they need.
  • As they get older they are expected to take more responsibility for their own learning and behaviour and to be more organised in order to do this. This can be hard with ADHD.
  • For young people who are not able to plan and organise themselves (eg don't hear the teacher's instructions, lose assignments and homework), school gets very difficult.
  • This can result in poor marks, being kept back in lower grades, poor self-esteem and truancy.
  • This may mean that they drop out of school early. Leaving school early means there are fewer chances to get a good job.

Young people with ADHD may:

  • Feel worthless
  • Wag school (truancy) 
  • Act out (do things that get them into trouble)
  • Be aggressive
  • Be anxious
  • Have difficulty making friends
  • Feel depressed.

Brothers and sisters

Do you have a brother or sister with ADHD? It can be difficult for you too. Some of the ways that you can be affected are:

  • Feeling left out because the one with ADHD seems to get all the attention.
  • Being annoyed by your brother's or sister's behaviour - they may be either dreamy and inattentive or very over-active.
  • Having parents who often are tired.
  • Sometimes feeling embarrassed, for example in a supermarket, where your sister or brother is running about all over the place.

You can help by:

  • Finding out as much as you can about ADHD.
  • Thinking of some positive ways that the family can help with your brother's or sister's behaviour. This can lead to really good changes for all of you
  • Coming up with ideas that seem to work in your house, for example, not playing loud music or making distracting noises while your brother or sister is trying to do homework.
  • Looking after yourself too to avoid feeling over stressed
  • Taking time out to enjoy your favourite activities
  • Having some quiet time out. Your household may sometimes be too disruptive to have some quiet time out for yourself, but can you visit some friends, a local park, oval or duck pond? Or just go for a walk?

Managing ADHD

  • As with younger children, a combination of education, learning new behaviours and medication may be helpful. About 80% of children benefit from medication for ADHD.
  • Often treatment with medications is useful but this should not be the only thing that is tried.
  • Usually people get better at controlling their own behaviour as they get older, but they may have many difficult years at school.
  • To get the best help it is important that everyone who is working with you talks with each other, works out plans together and explains to you clearly what is happening.
  • Whatever actions are decided on, it is also important that everyone knows what to expect. For example if you are having school work problems, one action may be to sit in a part of the room where there are less distractions - the aim of this would be to help with school work.

The use of medicine for ADHD needs ongoing close supervision by a doctor.

  • This is to make sure the person is getting the right dose, and to check for any possible side-effects of the drugs.
  • Drug treatment may be needed for long periods - it is therefore important to make sure the medicine works as well as possible. 
  • The drugs used for ADHD have been around for many years.  If they are used in the correct dose there will not be any harm to your health, but they can cause problems if too much is used.

Things To Try

  • Have clear and consistent routines at home and school.
  • Take time for fun and relaxing things.
  • Study in a place where there are no distractions. Some people with ADHD find it easier to concentrate if there is loud music playing which blocks out other distractions - see what works best for yourself.
  • Make a list of tasks, and cross them off when they are completed.
  • Reward yourself for doing well.
  • Stay positive - it is hard to live with ADHD but practicing new behaviours will help.

Self Esteem

  • People with ADHD can find it difficult to feel good about themselves.
  • Many things that others take for granted are hard for them.
  • Often, other people just notice the negatives instead of looking at all the good things about the person. See our topic on Self esteem and confidence for ideas on ways to increase self esteem.
  • If you have a friend with ADHD, you can help by noticing the things your friend does well and letting him know.


South Australia further information can be sought from:

  • The Attention Disorders Association of SA (ADASA)
    302 South Road, Hilton SA 5033 
    Telephone: 8152 0187
    Fax: 8152 0447
    Email: admin@adasa.com.au
  • Disability Information and Resource Centre (DIRC) SA
    Tel: 8223 7522
    Country callers 1800 182 179



American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
'ADHD - a guide for families'

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 'Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder'  http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 'Draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD' 2009 

Serfontein G, "ADD in Adults", Simon and Schuster (Australia) 1994.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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