Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit disorder (ADD), also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), affects nearly 5 percent of children in the United States. Children with ADD struggle with paying attention and staying focused on everyday jobs like cleaning their room or completing homework. Additionally, these children may be overly sensitive to external stimuli such as touch. It was thought that adults outgrew the symptoms of ADD; however, research now suggests that some adults can retain their symptoms of ADD. This leads the adult to struggle with organizational tasks and the condition can even proceed to destructive behaviors such as addiction and substance abuse. The topic of ADD is riddled with controversy due to the tendency to misdiagnose active, yet healthy children with this disorder. Although medication is available, many experts suggest that prescribing medication to children who actually do not have ADD is highly destructive and may cause problems as the brain continues to develop.


Although ADD or ADHD is a disorder that has only recently been introduced into the daily vernacular, children and adults affected by the disorder have long been observed throughout the history of the world. The first recorded incident of ADD was in 1904, when the British medical journal The Lancet published a short poem about a boy with the disorder. Specifically, the verse titled “The Story of Fidgety Philip” told the story of a young boy who just seemed to have too much energy to sit still. His antics often got him in trouble, resulting in the disgrace of his parents. These same characteristics have often been re-created in other fictional characters such as “Dennis the Menace” by Hank Ketcham.

In 1970, C. Kornetsky proposed the catecholamine hypothesis of hyperactivity to describe ADD/ADHD. Catecholamine is a group of neurotransmitters that include norepinephrine, adrenaline, and dopamine. Kornetsky hypothesized that the lack of or a decreased amount of naturally occurring catecholamines is what caused ADD, therefore by prescribing drugs such as Ritalin, artificial catecholamines were added back into the brain. It is important to notice that a consensus has yet to be reached about what causes ADD. Although some say that it is caused by a chemical imbalance, there is evidence that suggests that it is not the only factor. Furthermore, scientists have shown that ADD is not caused by a decrease in a single neurotransmitter system, but that ADD or ADHD is a complex disease that may have many components.

Types and Symptoms

Symptoms of ADD are sometimes confused with hyperactivity and an inability to focus in young children. The ADD Association stresses the importance of proper testing with a qualified and certified health care provider such as a psychiatrist or physician. ADD is appropriately diagnosed if children and adults display the triad of ADD symptoms. The first symptom is distractibility, or an inability to focus on any idea for too long a time. The second symptom is impulsivity, or the inability to control oneself. This includes displaying a lack of patience or the inability to wait for gratification. The last characteristic and diagnostic behavior of ADD is hyperactivity, or excessive activity. Simply having these qualities, however, is not enough to diagnose someone with ADD. These behaviors must appear in a patient before the age of seven and be present for at least a period of six months. The symptoms must also disrupt two or more areas of a person’s life, including school, work, home, or social life. Other common symptoms include failure to pay attention to details, not listening when spoken to, constantly fidgeting, and excessive activity. The severity of these symptoms differs for each person, and in fact about one-third of all people diagnosed with ADD do not have symptoms of hyperactivity and lack of focus.

It is also important to note that ADD is not caused by food allergies, certain dyes in food, or a lack of activity caused by watching too much television or playing video games. Nonetheless, excess sugar and a lack of activity can cause normal children to exhibit what seems like symptoms of ADD. Thus, family members, teachers, and society must not jump to the conclusion that a child or adult has ADD simply because he or she cannot sit still.

Treatments and Outcomes

Although there is not a cure for ADD or ADHD, there are a multitude of treatment options for individuals with the syndrome. Some of them include medication and others include a series of steps for the patient to manage or control the symptoms of ADD. Often, parents help their children choose and try to implement both regimens into their everyday activities.

The first treatment is medication (a stimulant), which is needed to help with the chemical imbalance in the brain. The stimulant can come in a multitude of forms and a number of compounds; the most common is Adderall. These medications do have side effects, with the most common being a decreased appetite and trouble sleeping or falling asleep. Other less common side effects include tics, which are sudden and repetitive motions usually of the face. In general, when children are taken off the medication, these tics will disappear. Another side effect that can occur, although it is rare, is a state of mind where the individual lacks emotion. This is sometimes dramatized in television shows and movies. Once again, when taken off the medication these side effects for the most part go away.

Other treatments that have helped individuals manage their symptoms include dietary changes, exercise, psychotherapy, and support and understanding from friends and family. Many times, patients with ADD feel out of place and incapable of doing anything. Low self-esteem can only compound the effects of ADD.

Cynthia M. Joseph

See also: Excitation; Neurological Examination

Further Reading

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health. (2008). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from