What is ADHD? Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the ability to regulate attention, emotion, and behaviour. A brain with ADHD has differences in the frontal lobe of the prefrontal cortex. The frontal lobe is responsible for cognitive skills that help us to plan, control, and evaluate what we do. These skills, called executive functions, include attention, organization, time management, self-monitoring, impulse control, working memory, processing speed, cognitive flexibility, and emotional regulation.
What are the symptoms of ADHD? ADHD can look different for different people. Some people struggle with symptoms of inattention: they might have trouble maintaining focus, ignoring distractions, organizing belongings, prioritizing tasks, and following through on projects. Some people struggle with symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity: they might fidget, talk excessively, struggle to inhibit urges, and feel restless and impatient. Some people struggle with both inattention and hyperactivity. In addition to individual variation, symptoms can present differently across life stages and genders.
How is ADHD assessed and diagnosed? There is no single test to identify ADHD, and other mental health conditions (e.g., anxiety, depression) and life circumstances (e.g., stress, burnout, sleeplessness) can have similar symptoms to ADHD. A psychologist, psychiatrist, or physician can diagnose ADHD by evaluating symptoms in the context of a developmental history and ruling out other causes of symptoms. An ADHD assessment involves a clinical interview and may also involve psychometric measures and neuropsychological testing. To meet diagnostic criteria, symptoms must be present in multiple settings (e.g., home and school) before the age of 12.
How is ADHD treated? Behaviour therapy and medication are the recommended treatments for ADHD. With support, people with ADHD can learn executive functioning skills and create systems to feel more effective.
What should I do if I think I might have ADHD? If you believe symptoms of ADHD are impairing your functioning at home, school, or work, you can start by having a conversation with your primary care provider. You and your primary care provider can determine if a referral to a psychologist or neuropsychologist for further testing is warranted or if another type of support is needed. You can also learn more about ADHD by consulting our list of resources.
During COVID-19, healthcare professionals have seen an increase in patients presenting with attention-related concerns. Some of these patients may have undiagnosed ADHD. They may be struggling more during COVID-19 (e.g., working remotely with less structure and more distraction), but they can also identify areas in which they struggled or had to compensate before the age of 12.
Rather than having an underlying neurodevelopmental disorder, many patients presenting with attention-related concerns may be feeling the long-term effects of living through a global pandemic. Chronic stress and uncertainty, disruptions in daily routines, transitions in homeschooling and remote work, increased screen time, and a more sedentary lifestyle can all affect our executive functions and mimic ADHD symptoms. Regardless of the underlying cause, symptoms of ADHD deserve your care and attention. Steps to improve your overall wellbeing can also improve your attention:
Try to reduce and manage your stress level
Ask someone you trust for help
Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep with a consistent sleep-wake schedule
Prioritize regular exercise and take movement breaks, especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day
End screen time and turn off devices at least an hour before bedtime
For information on ADHD and tics or tic-like behaviour, click here.
Select any of the links below for information and resources. Although we have taken care selecting this list, we cannot accept responsibility for the content published by the authors. Please consult websites for up-to-date information.
ADDitude: Inside the ADHD Mind A media network that provides credible and accessible articles, podcasts, and webinars to support individuals living with ADHD
Attention Deficit Information A website led by Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Annick Vincent that provides practical tips on managing ADHD and associated concerns with sleep, appetite, and screen time
Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA) A not-for-profit organization primarily geared to healthcare professionals and researchers; however, information for youth, parents, and adults affected by ADHD is available under Resources and Public Info