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What is ADHD?

NZ ADHD Online Support Group

What is ADHD?

According to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition) [the most widely used diagnostic criteria for ADHD], the ADHD condition can be broken down into 3 sub-categories:

  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: combined type
  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: predominantly inattentive
  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: predominantly hyperactive or impulsive

Note: much of what is written about ADHD is the subject of debate. But the wider medical and scientific community generally agrees upon the extended definition that is presented here.

Generally an ADHD child will be diagnosed with one of the three depending on their symptoms.


Nobody knows the exact number of children with ADHD in New Zealand. In the USA, however, approximately 2-5% of the school age population has been diagnosed with one of the 3 types of ADHD. Strangely, ADHD is 3 to 4 times more likely to occur in males than females.

Onset & duration:

The onset of symptoms is early in childhood, before 7 years of age (generally noticeable at 4-5 years). And for approx. 75% of ADHD sufferers, these symptoms continue into adulthood, although levels of hyperactivity may decrease with age.


For the most part, the cause of ADHD (all three sub-types) remains a mystery. The experts agree that the condition is primarily biological in nature. Researchers have suggested that genetics may be responsible for some cases of ADHD, but non-genetic factors (such as exposure to toxins, episodes of oxygen deprivation or smoking during pregnancy) have also been identified as possible causal factors.

A lot of research has also been conducted on the neurobiology of ADHD.


Comorbidity refers to the child having additional problems as well as ADHD. As many as two-thirds of clinically referred children with ADHD have additional problems. 30-50% will have conduct disorder (CD), and 20-25% will have anxiety problems. Generally 20-30% of ADHD children also have learning problems and as many as 30% have delayed motor development.

What to do if you suspect a child has ADHD:The first step in helping a child who displays the three hallmark symptoms (hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity) is to seek a diagnosis. This involves organising an appointment with a paediatric specialist or child psychologist.


While ADHD is not curable (at the moment), the good news is that ADHD is manageable. Both behavioural and pharmacological regimes are available

After diagnosis:The most important thing for both child and parent to remember after being diagnosed with ADHD is that:

"You are not alone!"

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed childhood mental condition. Most primary schools will have several children already diagnosed with the condition.

There are plenty of support groups available throughout New Zealand. Parents should educate themselves about ADHD and know their legal rights when dealing with schools and health care groups. Also maintain a close relationship with the child's teacher and school.

This information is reproduced with the permission of the New Zealand ADHD online support group. For a more detailed information on the possible causes, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, click here.