What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The symptoms of ADHD aren't something parents can control or prevent, but they can help children manage ADHD.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The symptoms of ADHD aren't something parents can control or prevent, but they can help children manage ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. It’s also one of the most commonly misunderstood conditions. It's not something that happens because of bad parenting. ADHD can affect how children behave, but how you treat children doesn’t affect ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD aren’t something parents can control or prevent. What you can do is help children manage ADHD. Adults can play a role in helping kids understand how their brains work. They can also help kids develop strategies to help them with school and social situations.

ADHD is a neurological condition that affects impulse control, working memory, executive function, and concentration. The major symptoms of ADHD include:

ADHD affects how people perform in school and at work. It can also make social interactions difficult. People with ADHD have trouble listening in conversation and don’t always react appropriately to social cues.

Experts divide ADHD into three categories: inattentive, hyperactive, and combined. The most common symptoms of each kind are different.

Inattentive-type ADHD

  • Doesn’t pay attention to details, makes careless mistakes at school or work
  • Has trouble sustaining attention for long periods
  • Does not seem to listen 
  • Does not complete schoolwork, job duties, or household responsibilities
  • Has difficulty planning and organizing tasks 
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained concentration
  • Often loses items such as keys or papers
  • Is easily distracted

Hyperactive-type ADHD

  • Fidgets with hands or feet, shifts or squirms instead of staying still
  • Struggles to stay seated for an extended time
  • Runs about or climbs in inappropriate settings
  • Has difficulty with quiet, solitary play or work 
  • Is always “on the go”
  • Excessively talks, interrupts, or intrudes on other people
  • Blurts out answers or talks out of turn
  • Has difficulty waiting in line or waiting for a turn 

Some people show symptoms from both categories of ADHD. In that case, experts might call it combined-type ADHD. 

What causes ADHD?

Experts can’t pinpoint a single cause of ADHD. It runs in families, but scientists have not identified particular genes or genetic abnormalities that lead to the disorder. Many experts think the condition is driven by differences in brain structure and function.

Research shows that people with ADHD have common differences in the size of their brains, particularly the size of the prefrontal cortex, which affects executive functions like planning and organization. It also controls the ability to suppress distractions. There are also reductions in the areas of the brain that register feelings of reward. That means completing tasks is less satisfying for people with ADHD.

Researchers have also identified differences in how brains process chemicals like dopamine, which is the chemical that makes you feel good. Having fewer dopamine receptors may drive people with ADHD to seek out higher-stimulation activities to feel the effects of dopamine.

Some of the physical differences in brain size and structure change over time. That may be why ADHD symptoms decrease as people get older.

Can parents cause ADHD or make it worse?

Parents don't cause ADHD. ADHD is largely determined by the brain's size, shape, and function. Outside factors, such as parents, peers, teachers, or electronic devices like TVs and computers, don’t cause ADHD. All of those things can influence how a child behaves or performs in school, but they can’t change the nature of the condition.

Behaviors like hyperactivity, talking out of turn, or forgetting schoolwork are not the result of bad parenting. You shouldn’t feel like ADHD is your fault. It’s more constructive for you to look for ways to help and support your kids so they can thrive.

Can parents help kids with ADHD?

ADHD is a manageable condition. Kids need support and assistance to learn how to deal with their symptoms, and you can provide that for them. There are several effective ways of dealing with ADHD, all of which set kids up to control their symptoms as they grow up. 


ADHD medications, including stimulant medications, are considered safe and effective treatments. They work by stimulating the areas of the brain that control thinking and attention. Keeping these key areas stimulated makes it easier for children to sustain attention during school.

Behavior therapy

Therapy for ADHD teaches kids to notice their symptoms and behaviors. They will learn to identify what triggers certain responses. As they understand their behaviors and impulses, they can begin to modify them. Therapy may assist kids with social tasks like learning how to wait their turn, how to request breaks or help when needed, and how their behavior affects others.

ADHD coaching

ADHD coaches work with students on productivity and executive functions like organization and planning. This may be especially helpful for older students. Coaches may also provide academic help, like tutoring. More often, they help students with tasks like keeping a calendar, setting goals, planning their workflow, and staying on deadline.

Education and support

Teaching kids about their ADHD helps them understand and manage it. You may also benefit from understanding the condition. When adults can identify ADHD-driven behaviors, they can respond in ways that support the child. Joining a support group for other parents of kids with ADHD is a great way to share information and strategies for helping your kids.

Support in school

Many teachers have experience working with students with ADHD and welcome cooperation with parents. School administrators and counselors are also resources for helping kids thrive in school. Your child may qualify for accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Ask their teacher or counselor if you can set up an IEP or 504 plan to get them the support they need.

If your child has ADHD, talk to their pediatrician. They may be able to recommend counselors and ADHD coaches in your area. They can also help you manage medication for your child. 


The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as: See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 4/8/2022

American Psychiatric Association: "What Is ADHD?"

Harvard Health Publishing: "5 things parents and teachers need to know about ADHD."

Lancet Psychiatry: "Subcortical brain volume differences of participants with ADHD across the lifespan: an ENIGMA collaboration."

Neuropharmacology: "Neurobiology of ADHD."

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews: "Identifying the neurobiology of altered reinforcement sensitivity in ADHD: A review and research agenda."