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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 2, No. 2
April 1997

Getting to Know Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADD and ADHD. We've all heard the terms, and many of us seen behaviors associated with them. Still, what is attention deficit disorder? In this article we describe these conditions and provide some tips for working with children diagnosed as ADD/ADHD and their families.

Attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD) is a neurological condition that impairs a child's learning, social and emotional functioning. It has no known cure.

Symptoms include inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity at age-inappropriate levels and can vary in degree (Aust, 1994). Inattention behaviors may include poor listening skills, difficulty completing tasks, daydreaming, and/or inability to complete projects. Impulsive behaviors may include low frustration tolerance, interrupting often, acting before thinking, losing things and/or rushing through assignments. Hyperactive children can be overactive (fidgeting, squirming, climbing), underactive (appearing confused, lethargic, sluggish and/or daydreaming), or over-focused (working slowly, intolerant of minor distractions, checking and rechecking work). Children with mild symptoms function fairly normally both in the home environment and in school. Children with severe symptoms can be affected in all areas of their daily living. Ziegler and Holden (1988) identify three important aspects to a child's development undermined by the presence of an attention disorder: self-esteem, frustration management, and a sense of self control.

It was thought until recently that ADD and ADHD are conditions only applicable for children, and that they can outgrow it. Increasingly, experts believe that for some people it can be a lifelong problem.

The causes of attention deficit disorders are not totally known. Until recently, many people thought ADHD and ADD were caused by the overconsumption of sugar, food additives and dyes, vitamin deficiencies, or lead poisoning. While these aspects may exacerbate symptoms or functioning difficulties, the most recent medical research indicates that ADHD and ADD may be genetic.

AD(H)D is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms vary from child to child and the problems often coexist with various learning, social, and emotional problems (Aust, 1994). If ADD or ADHD is suspected, it is critical that a thorough evaluation be conducted by trained medical personnel.

To learn more about what you can do to improve your work with families affected by AD(H)D, see "Steps You Can Take: Working with Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D) Children" and "Guidelines for Parents of Children with Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D)." See also Volume 2, Number 3 of Practice Notes, "Should Medication Be Used to Treat AD(H)D?".


Aust, P. (1994). When the problem is not the problem: Understanding attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity. Child Welfare, 74,(3), 215-227.

North Carolina Family and Children's Resource Program. (1994). What is ADD/ADHD. In Caye, J. (Ed.) Performance Based Core Curriculum in Child Welfare, pp. 6-45 through 6-49. Chapel Hill, NC: Author.

Ziegler, R. & Holden, L. (1988). Family therapy for learning disabled and attention-deficit disordered children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58(2), 196-210.

1997 Jordan Institute for Families