What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a mental health problem. It is a common neurodevelopmental difference that makes it difficult to pay attention. You might also notice that you act impulsively and feel hyperactive. This can affect your daily life from a young age and for some people will continue to affect them as an adult. 

ADHD is usually diagnosed when children are in primary school and often it might be your parents, carers or teachers who notice that you’re having difficulties. However, some people experience ADHD from an early age but aren’t diagnosed until they are teenagers or adults. Girls, teenagers and high achievers can all find it more difficult to receive an ADHD diagnosis. People experience ADHD in different ways, so you might feel that either difficulties with attention or feeling hyperactive have a bigger impact.  

There are some other difficulties which are more common for people with ADHD, including:  

How can I get help?

Before you are offered an assessment for ADHD you might be asked to do other things first, such as an assessment for a learning difficulty. This is because there can be other reasons why you might find it difficult to pay attention. For example, extra support at school might help with some of the behaviours that can look like ADHD and some types of support for your parents or carers could also help with your attention difficulties.  

If you’re at school, then either you or your parents or carers can talk to your teacher or your school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) about how you are managing at school, whether you have any concerns and what help you might need at school. Often your school might be able to refer you to an ADHD service, but you could also see your GP about a referral (although they might still need information from your school) 

You can find out more about referrals here and more about local mental health services here. 

Planning treatment

Your professional will think about a range of factors which might be contributing to your ADHD and suggest treatment options which address these factors. These could include biological factors and treatments (such as medication or whether any physical health conditions you might have are affecting your ADHD), psychological factors and social factors. 

Your treatment plan should:  

  • be specific to how your ADHD affects you 
  • include how your ADHD support will work
  • include support for any other physical or mental health problems you might have
  • include any support you might need at school or college 
  • include any support you might need at home
  • take into account your and your parents or carers (if appropriate) preferences.

After you have been given a diagnosis of ADHD, your professional should talk with you (and your parents or carers, if appropriate) about how ADHD could affect your life. This discussion should become part of your shared treatment plan, and could include: 

  • the positive effects of a diagnosis, such as improving your understanding of your symptoms, identifying and building on your strengths, and making it easier for you to access services
  • the possible negative effects of a diagnosis, such as stigma and other people not being able to see past your ADHD diagnosis 
  • that people with ADHD are more likely to act impulsively 
  • how making changes to your routines could reduce how much your ADHD affects you (also called environmental modifications – see below drop-down) 
  • anything that would help you at school or college 
  • how ADHD could affect your relationships with family and friends 
  • how your ADHD and support with ADHD could affect any mental or physical health conditions you have 
  • that people with ADHD can be more likely to misuse drugs or use medication in a way that has not been recommended by their doctor 
  • how ADHD could affect you driving a car.

Your mental health professional should also talk to you and your parents or carers about support groups and voluntary organisations, helpful websites and sources of support in education and employment. 

The information you are given should be easily understandable and should contain explanations of clinical terms. Your professional should discuss this information with you and give you a written copy. 

How should decisions about my care happen?

Your professional should explain your different treatment options and involve you in planning and making decisions about your treatment. Your involvement in decision-making, and how much your parents, carers or other people who you are close to are involved, should reflect your age and your ability to make these decisions. You and the professionals supporting you should have regular discussions where you review the decisions you have made about your treatment and how you and your parents or carers want to be involved in planning it. It is especially important to talk about this when you are moving from one service to another.   

You can find more information about making treatment decisions here. 

Before starting a treatment, your mental health professional should talk with you about: 

  • your choices and preferences
  • any worries you have 
  • any other physical or mental health conditions you might have 
  • how to stick to your treatment plan 
  • the benefits and risks of the treatments
  • the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and exercise. 

Your professional should give you a treatment plan which explains all the support you need. They should ask your permission to share this plan with your family, school, social workers and other professionals that support you. 

Environmental modifications

Environmental modifications are changes to places where you spend time that could reduce the effects of ADHD on your everyday life.  Your mental health professional should discuss possible environmental modifications with you after they have given you information about ADHD. These could include:  

  • changing seating arrangements at school 
  • changing the brightness of the lights
  • reducing noise
  • finding a way to reduce things that distract you
  • support from teaching assistants.

Changing things around you could help to minimise distractions and make it easier to keep focused on school work. These changes will be different for each person and should be based on your individual needs. 

Support for your family

Even before you have a diagnosis, if your behaviour and/or attention problems are making family life difficult, your parents or carers may be offered a place on a support group focused on ADHD.  

To help support your family, professionals should talk with your parents or carers about how they are feeling, and discuss any worries. Your parents or carers might need support with your daily routines, such as going to school or managing your ADHD treatment. Your professional can give them advice on positive communication, helping you to have a good daily structure and setting clear rules. 

The wellbeing of your parents or carers is important, and your professional should encourage them to ask for an assessment of their personal, social and mental health needs, and to join any self-help or support groups that they might find useful. 

Transitions between services

When you leave school, your ADHD professional should see how you are doing, and decide whether you need to continue having treatment for ADHD. If you do, then your ADHD professional should arrange your transition from CAMHS or Child Health Services to adult ADHD services, which should be finished by the time you are 18 years old. There aren’t well developed adult ADHD services in all parts of the country so in some areas your ADHD treatment will be passed back to your GP.  

This can be a worrying time, and to help it go smoothly your professional should work with you on treatment and decision-making plans before the transition to adult services. You should get clear information about what to expect from adult services. It can also be helpful for your CAMHS or Child Health professionals to talk to professionals in adult services before you transition. 

After moving to adult services you should have another assessment. This should include finding out about how you are managing employment or education and your personal and social wellbeing, as well as how you are coping with any other conditions. 

You may also transition to another CAMHS service (e.g. if you move house). If this happens, your professional should work with you to make sure that your care can continue smoothly, and that your new service has all the information they need. 

For more information about transitioning between services, please see Moving on.

Additional support

The below organisations offer ADHD specific support for children, young people and their families:

  • ADDN-NI: charity offering support to people with ADHD in Northern Ireland
  • ADHD Foundation: UK charity offering support for those living with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, DCD, Dyscalculia, OCD, and Tourette’s Syndrome
  • AFC Crisis Messenger: a free, confidential, 24/7 text message support service for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed or is struggling to cope. If you need support, you text AFC to 85258.
  • Childline: Childline is there to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through. Whether it’s something big or small, their trained counsellors are there to support you
  • Scottish ADHD Coalition: organisation signposting to ADHD support groups hosted by voluntary organisations across Scotland
  • The Hyperactive Children’s Support Group: charity supporting hyperactive children, young people and their families
  • The Mix: support and advice for children and young people under 25
  • The UK ADHD Partnership: organisation offering support to parents and cares of children and young people with ADHD

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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