Frequently asked questions

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Is ADHD the same as attention difficulties?

No. One of the symptoms of ADHD is inattention but, to be considered a disorder, it must be accompanied by one or many of the other attention deficit symptoms, such as impulsivity or hyperactivity. It is also important to remember that it is not considered a disorder if these symptoms do not interfere with the individual's school work, job or social or family life.

Attentional difficulties can be present for many other reasons: learning disorders or delays, disorders that affect the arousal system, such as those of the affective sphere (anxiety disorders or depression), schizophrenic disorders, psychotic disorders, consumption disorders and abuse of toxic or other substances and metabolic and/or endocrine diseases (e.g., hypothyroidism and encephalopathies), for example.

Is ADHD the same as a learning disorder like dyslexia?

No. ADHD is characterised by behaviours that hinder performance at school. Such as difficulties in sitting still, paying attention or thinking, which interfere with the availability to learn.  

Learning disorders are due to interference in the ability to process and use information, and thus in the ability to learn.

Learning problems related to ADHD are observed in difficulties with working memory, internal language, verbal fluency, organisation and planning.

When is it considered a disorder?

It becomes a disorder when functional interference is seen in school life (impairments in functional skills, such as reading, writing and calculating); employment (job instability, level of occupation below their capabilities); family life (alterations in the parent-child relationship and family stress); or social life (instability of relationships with friends/partners, difficulties in play and aggressiveness). To be defined as a disorder, it must cause alterations in at least two environments: e.g., school-home, school-extracurricular activity.

Is it a common disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common of the childhood psychiatric conditions; affecting 3-7% of schoolchildren and persisting into adulthood for 30-50% of those affected as children.

It is considered as one of the biggest public health problems, due to its involvement in difficulties throughout life and its association with other mental health problems in the children, adolescents and adults who suffer it.

Does it affect boys more than girls?

Prevalence studies in the general population show almost no difference according to sex; however, for children referred to a child-juvenile mental health centre, there are 9 times more boys than girls. It is very likely that this difference is due to girls having more cognitive and verbal hyperactivity and impulsiveness and because they are seen as less conflictive; so, help or intervention is often not requested.

If I suspect that I or my child has ADHD, what can I do?

In the first place, you should put yourself in the hands of a professional who knows how to establish or rule out diagnosis of the disorder. There are a number of different conditions or disorders with symptoms similar to ADHD.

Who can diagnose it?

A professional expert in ADHD, such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist exclusively dedicated to mental health. They should also be dedicated to children and adolescents if the case to diagnose is a child/adolescent. Other professionals, such as paediatricians, neurologists, neuropaediatricians, psychiatrists have the power to diagnose it, but must have specific knowledge about ADHD and other psychopathological disorders that are frequently associated with it. If they have to diagnose a child they must be used to working with children.

What complications are there?

The disorder increases the risk of school failure, repeating courses, school expulsions, minor injuries, bicycle or motorcycle accidents, drug experimentation, antisocial behaviour, such as theft, early onset of sexual behaviour and unwanted pregnancy. In adults, employment difficulties, lower occupational level, increased traffic accidents, drug dependence and reckless sexual behaviour are all risks. It has also been associated with diseases, such as obesity and its complications (hypertension and diabetes).

What can parents do?

They should manage their children's behaviour well, since ADHD is a disorder that alters the child's behaviour. For children where attention deficit prevails, behaviour is not the problem, but disorder and disorganisation. In this case, parents should have strategies to deal with it. Therapy with parents is aimed at learning to manage their child's behaviour using techniques such as positive reinforcement, extinction, time-outs and quiet spaces, token boards and response cost.

Do you have to take medication all your life?

The person must continue with the pharmacological treatment as long as it is necessary. The patient should rely on medication when developing new learning strategies that help him compensate for the symptoms of the disorder, and thus be able to dispense with the treatment. Therefore, the person's symptoms and difficulties should be continually reassessed. Periods without pharmacological treatment can be tried and supervised at least every two years, in case a significant improvement is observed.

Substantiated information by:

Marta Garcia Giral
Montse Vila
Rosa Nicolau

Published: 18 February 2022
Updated: 18 February 2022

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