What is ADHD and what does it look like in children and young people?

    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which children find it very difficult to focus their attention or control their behaviour. They usually cannot concentrate for long and they often do or say things on impulse without thinking.

    Children who have ADHD are restless and can’t sit still or do one thing for very long. They are easily distracted. Because they find it so hard to pay attention, they may often be criticised for being careless and making too many mistakes at school. They appear not to listen when someone is talking to them, find it hard to wait their turn and can be disruptive in their play. Some children with ADHD can concentrate for longer periods on things which really interest them, for example computer games, but can be easily distracted.

    Of course, all children behave impulsively and find it hard to concentrate sometimes. But with ADHD, this behaviour is persistent and occurs wherever the child is, not just in one place such as school or at home. Symptoms usually start when a child is a toddler, and always before they reach the age of six or seven.

    ADHD can have a variety of degrees of severity and in mild cases or in girls it can often go undiagnosed for long periods of time. It is not uncommon for ADHD to interfere in academic performance, socialisation or for young people or children to get into trouble for disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

    Young people and children can often end up feeling bad about themselves and at times they are seen and labelled as bad by those around them too. This is very sad as they are often not able to control their behavuor.

    This condition can be present in adults too and sometimes the diagnosis is only made in adulthood. Adults too present with difficulty to focus, pay attention as well as having difficulty with impulsivity. This condition can affect functioning significantly in that young adults often struggle to study or apply themselves and at times they can make impulsive decisions with negative consequences.

    What are the causes?

    Most experts believe ADHD results from a problem in the part of the brain which controls our impulses and our capacity to concentrate. However the picture is complicated. It is probable that a combination of factors can lead to the difficulties the child experiences, factors within the child and between the child and his family.

    What can you do when you feel like that?

    First of all, you are not alone and you are not bad. You have what about 20% of young people experience. You can get help and you can lead a completely normal life.

    It is helpful to have an assessment in order to determine whether you or your child has ADHD or not. Once the diagnosis is made, it will be clearer of what can be done in order to help you or your child lead a fulfilling, happy and productive life.

    What is the treatment?

    The good news is that ADHD is completely treatable. In situations where the symptoms are mild in children, the treatment of choice is family therapy and specific support in schools. For young adults with ADHD or with ADD ( no hyperactivity) it is often helpful to have medication, particularly if the condition affects their functioning. In children and young people when the symptoms are more severe or leading to difficulties, then medication is usually indicated.

    Medication that is used is most of the time stimulant medication. The medication stimulates the part of the control part of the brain that is underactive in ADHD and once that part of the brain is stimulated, it is easier for children, young people and young adults to focus and to have a better control over themselves. The medication works immediately which means that it is immediately visible whether it works or not.

    When medication is discussed as an option with you or with you and your child, then the psychiatrist will discuss how it works in detail with you as well as discuss any potential side effects.

    What does Stepping Stones provide?

    We provide the assessment and treatment of ADHD and ADD. The cost of the assessment ranges between £500 – £750 and the cost of the sessions depend on what the treatment pathway looks like. If the treatment is psychiatric review only, then follow-up sessions will be 30 minutes long and the cost will be £180. Sessions are monthly at the start, but then become 3 – 6 monthly. If psychological therapies are indicated, then these are usually offered in blocks of 6 and charged at £150 per hour.

    Useful information for parents: When you think your child has ADHD:

    3 Don’t’s:

    • Don’t blame
    • Don’t get angry
    • Don’t ignore it

    3 Do’s:

    • Try and simplify instructions
    • Use reminders
    • Focus on the positive and reward it

    Additionally, for parents – 6 secrets

    • Adapt your parenting techniques to your child with ADHD: behaviour modification techniques that work with 95% of children may only work in 5% of ADHD children.
    • Use reward and not punishment
    • Positive attention: Simply pay attention to positive behaviour, and ignore inappropriate behaviour, for example, wiggling around and making silly noises when you help your child with homework is best dealt with by ignoring the behaviour and saying something like: “Lets see how fast we can get this done” and when he/ she settles, you could say, “wow, you are working hard now, we are almost done”.
    • Focus on the child’s strengths daily
    • Kids with ADHD respond well to touch
    • Be consistent

    It is also advisable to get professional help. The earlier we can intervene the better.

    Useful addresses and telephone numbers

    Living with ADHD

    This website has been developed to support those who come into contact with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – parents/carers and teachers – and also provides resources for children and teenagers themselves, to help them understand and manage the condition.


    Add+up was set up to bring families together, to guide parents in the right direction to find the practical help they need for their children and to promote both public and professional awareness of ADHD.

    ADD / ADHD Online Information

    ADDISS, The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service


    ADHD Voices brings the perspectives and experiences of children into international debates around rising child psychiatric diagnoses and the increasing use of drugs in child psychiatry. These voices contribute to an empirical evidence base that helps to inform ethical debate, clinical judgment, and national policy. VOICES is a Wellcome Trust funded research project based at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    ADHD Foundation