What is ADHD?

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological developmental disorder affecting around one in every 20 Australians.

Key points

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) presents as inattentive, impulsive or hyperactive behaviours
  • Girls and women are often underdiagnosed, due to less obvious ADHD traits, compared to boys and men
  • ADHD is not listed as an eligible condition for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding

ADHD typically presents in young children, impacting a person’s ability to self-regulate their words, behaviour, emotions and thoughts.

Research has found that there is a strong hereditary component with ADHD, while it may be caused by a biochemical imbalance in some people. Other potential causes include premature birth, brain injury and oxygen deprivation at birth.

ADHD is not a disorder that can be “cured”, however, with the right supports and structure, inattentive and impulsive behaviours can be focused and better regulated.

Common signs of ADHD

There are three recognised forms of ADHD – inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Symptoms can vary between the three types, with combined ADHD having the most overlap as a mixture of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive.

For young children, the signs of ADHD are often put down as ‘negative behaviours’ during school, however, it leads to creative outbursts and focused learning in a supportive environment.

When someone who has ADHD is doing something they enjoy, you will often find they show signs of hyperfixation and are less likely to be distracted.

Someone with inattentive ADHD will show behavioural signs such as:

  • Struggling to focus in class, during conversations or when reading
  • Procrastinating and avoiding tasks that involve continuous mental concentration
  • Not following instructions
  • Starting but not finishing tasks
  • Losing belongings
  • Not listening when being spoken to
  • Being forgetful with everyday tasks
  • Easily getting distracted
  • Poor sense of time

Someone with hyperactivity-impulsivity will display behavioural signs including:

  • Fidgeting and squirming (constantly being in motion in some way)
  • Talking frequently without pausing
  • Playing loudly or not being able to stay quiet
  • Not being able to wait patiently or interrupting others
  • Moving around frequently, including running, climbing or simply leaving their seat during class
  • Expressing their thoughts out loud without a filter

Girls with ADHD may show slightly different behaviours to boys, such as hyper-talkativeness and emotional reactivity, and be less disruptive than their male peers.

Associated emotional symptoms may follow, particular as a child with ADHD ages, including anxiety or depression.

Getting an ADHD diagnosis

ADHD behaviours usually present themselves during childhood. With a hereditary link, it is common to see ADHD run within families, so it is important to look out for behaviours in your children if you or your partner have been diagnosed.

If you believe your child has ADHD, your first step will be making an appointment with your General Practitioner (GP). They will assist with any necessary referrals to a psychologist, developmental paediatrician or psychiatrist.

An official ADHD diagnosis will depend on several factors. A person must “exhibit a large number of symptoms, demonstrate significant problems with daily life in several major life areas (work, school or friends), and have had the symptoms for a minimum of six months”, according to ADHD Australia.

Girls and women also present with different behaviours than the typical symptoms associated with ADHD, meaning they are often underdiagnosed in comparison.
Additionally, Australia is working towards introducing uniform clinical guidelines for the diagnosis of ADHD, although none are currently in place.

Supporting a child with ADHD

If your child has an ADHD diagnosis, or you believe they are showing key traits, it is important to support them with structure, organisation and early interventions.

At home, you can provide clear and simple instructions, establish routines and support creative and physical activities they show interest in.

If a person with ADHD struggles to self-regulate behaviours and emotions, there are some areas of mental development they may lag in, including executive functions. Executive functions include working memory, mental flexibility and self-control.

Each of these skills need to be developed and it is important to support your child if they are struggling with ADHD.

There are several ways to manage ADHD, including pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. These supports provide lifelong benefits, boosting self-esteem and social interactions.

It is best to speak to a professional regarding the implementation of treatments such as ADHD coaching, cognitive training, cognitive-behavioural intervention, neurofeedback or taking medication.

School-based interventions may also be available so speak to your child’s teachers in regards to their learning.

NDIS support: Is ADHD a disability?

ADHD is currently not listed as an eligible condition for entry to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

There are recommendations by the Australian ADHD Professionals Association (AADPA) for ADHD to become an eligible condition “based on the functional needs of the person with ADHD” so they can access “necessary and reasonable NDIS interventions and supports”.

The Federal Government is also investigating the potential of including ADHD to the NDIS. NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said he is looking into ADHD becoming an eligible condition for the scheme.

Have you or your child received an ADHD diagnosis? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

Related content:
Am I eligible for the NDIS?
What if my NDIS application is not successful
Accessing disability support without NDIS funding