ADHD: What is it?

ADHD is a diverse condition. While it can be present at any age, it tends to first appear in children and young adolescents, who battle with their condition on a daily basis. Estimates suggest that ADHD affects around three to five percent of school-aged children; with 8.2 million in the UK, that equates to over 300,000 children and young adults – one in virtually every classroom.1, 2

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of ADHD?

A person with ADHD generally has three core symptoms:3

  • Inattentiveness (e.g. showing difficulty sustaining attention in tasks, difficulty organising tasks and activities, does not follow through on instructions)
  • Hyperactivity (e.g. often fidgets with hands or feet, talks excessively, trouble remaining in a seat for a long time)
  • Impulsivity (e.g. often interrupts or intrudes on others, has difficulty awaiting turn)

When any of these symptoms produce repetitive behaviour patterns which are inconsistent with a person’s development stage and get in the way of daily life, ADHD may be the correct diagnosis and can be treated.3 While ADHD can be a struggle to live with, with a cohesive treatment plan and proper management, people with ADHD can harness their condition to become highly creative, divergent thinkers, and excellent problem solvers.4

With the right support, given from an early age, there are few limits to what those who live with this condition can achieve. Olympic athletes, Michelin-starred chefs, entrepreneurs, doctors, artists and many other outstanding professions all boast individuals with ADHD among their elite.

Myths and misconceptions

Those with ADHD can face an ongoing battle to overcome inherent scepticism from family, colleagues, classmates, friends, the public – and even their own doctors. While much is still to be learnt about ADHD, research has shown the following:

  • ADHD is not a “childhood disease”; up to two thirds of cases persist into adulthood5,6
  • ADHD is predominantly influenced by genetic factors3
  • Symptoms of ADHD can affect a person in any aspect of life (e.g. social, familial, educational, occupational)7
  • Several studies have shown that the brains of people with ADHD develop differently8

While the disorder is often associated with children and young people, around two thirds of cases persist into adulthood.6 Impulsivity and poor concentration can get worse which can lead to interference with work, daily activities, and relationships.7

Although ADHD is an internationally-recognised disease, it is still frequently positioned as a ‘non-medical’ behavioural or societal issue and incorrectly blamed on lifestyle, environment or parenting choices and is often trivialised to describe common bad behaviour.

Break the Stigma

The ‘A Lifetime Lost, or a Lifetime Saved’ report, which outlines the results of a national survey of 104 people affected by ADHD, noted that people with ADHD are still facing stigma. This stigma is present across sectors, with 22% of people experiencing doubt from their GPs about whether ADHD is a real condition, while 38% of parents were criticised by school teaching staff who blamed the condition on parenting skills. The report can be downloaded here.

As a result of prevailing stigma, people with the condition may not be receiving the support that they need, with 78% of those surveyed revealing that they or their child were not offered psychiatric counselling or therapy following diagnosis, despite NICE guidelines recommending group-based ADHD-focused support that includes education and information on causes and impacts of ADHD and advice on parenting strategies.3


1 Royal College of Psychiatrists. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults. Available at: Last accessed June 2018.

2 Department of Education. Number of schools, teachers and students in England. Available at: Last accessed June 2018.

3 NICE Clinical Guideline. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management. Available at: Last accessed June 2018.

4 White HA and Shah P. Uninhibited imaginations: Creativity in adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Personality and Individual Differences 2006; 40: 1121-1131.

5 Kooij SJ et al. European consensus statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD: The European Network Adult ADHD. BMC Psychiatry 2010; 10: 67.

6 Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. Management of attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorders in children and young people: A national clinical guidelines. Available at: Last accessed June 2018.

7 Pitts M, Mangle L, Asherson P. Impairments, Diagnosis and Treatments Associated with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in UK Adults: Results from the Lifetime Impairment Survey. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 2015; 29: 56–63.

National Health Service. Available at: Last accessed June 2018.