Everyone has trouble paying attention at times, and it’s normal to be restless in some situations. But if your challenges related to attention and focus regularly interfere with your work or personal life, you may have ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a mental health condition in which a person has a hard time focusing their attention and controlling restless or impulsive behavior. Though ADHD is most common in children, it affects many adults as well, and some people are not diagnosed with ADHD until they reach adulthood. Additionally, symptoms can look very different in adults compared to children.

Prevalence of ADHD

ADHD is a common disorder in the United States, especially for children.

  • ADHD is estimated to affect about 5% to 9.5% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 [1].
  • Between 4.4% and 5% of American adults have ADHD [2]. (Many adults with ADHD do not seek treatment, so actual numbers may be significantly higher.)

In children, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Adult men are also more likely to have ADHD than adult women.

Symptoms of ADHD

Not everyone with ADHD will experience the same symptoms. However, some symptoms are especially common. These fall into two different categories:

Symptoms of Inattention:

  • Difficulty concentrating: You may struggle to hold your attention on one task for a long period of time, especially if the task isn’t interesting to you.
  • Challenges focusing on details: You might complete work or school tasks carelessly or overlook information.
  • Difficulty following instructions and/or organizing tasks: People with ADHD tend to be disorganized and may fail to complete work as directed.
  • Tending to lose things: You might constantly find yourself misplacing your phone, your keys, your homework, or other important items.
  • Forgetfulness: It may be difficult for you to recall details and keep track of information relevant to your daily life.
  • Easily distracted: You might have a hard time working in stimulating environments and get off-track easily.

Symptoms of Hyperactivity/Impulsivity:

  • Frequent fidgeting: You might feel the need to keep your hands occupied as much as possible.
  • Difficulty sitting still for long periods of time: You may have difficulty with situations that require you to sit quietly, such as classrooms or meetings.
  • Talking excessively or interrupting frequently: People with ADHD, particularly children, might have trouble waiting their turn in a conversation.
  • Feeling restless: You may feel generally restless and have a hard time stopping yourself from changing activities frequently.

Some people will have more of one kind of symptom than the other, while other people may have both kinds of symptoms equally.

For adults, symptoms may be less outwardly visible, since adults with ADHD have often learned to meet external expectations while still having internal difficulties.

For example, a child with ADHD may move around in class instead of staying seated, while an adult might stay seated but feel very restless.

What to do if you’re experiencing ADHD

If you have symptoms of ADHD, consider one or more of the following options:

  • Therapy: Therapy can be a very helpful way to gain insight into your condition and work on evidence-based strategies to reduce your symptoms. (See tips on finding a therapist below.)
  • Medication: Medication is a very common treatment option for ADHD. Though most medications come with side effects, a psychiatric professional can help you manage these side effects and find the most effective treatment.
  • Check-ups: Symptoms of ADHD can sometimes be related to underlying medical conditions. It’s important to stay up-to-date with visits to your primary care physician to rule out related medical conditions.
  • Mindfulness practices: Research indicates that meditation and other mindfulness practices can help many people with ADHD be more attentive and improve their overall quality of life.
  • Exercise: Staying active is also a great way to minimize ADHD symptoms.

Best therapy types for ADHD

For ADHD, psychotherapy is often used either on its own or in combination with medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is generally thought to be the most effective therapy type for ADHD.

Additionally, the following types of psychotherapy may also work well for people with ADHD:

What to look for in a therapist for ADHD

You’ll want to make sure that your therapist is qualified to treat ADHD. This will usually involve:

  • Advanced education in a field related to mental health, such as psychiatry, psychology, or social work
  • Licensure to practice in the state where you live
  • Additional training and/or experience in treating ADHD specifically, which will usually mean advanced training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Finally, as with any therapy, it’s important to make sure that your therapist is a good fit for your unique needs. Be sure to evaluate the following in your initial calls with therapists:

  • How will you pay for therapy? Does the therapist take your insurance or otherwise offer rates that will work with your budget?
  • When and where will you attend sessions? Does the therapist offer treatment at a location that is convenient for you and at times that work with your schedule?

Most importantly, do you feel comfortable talking to this therapist and sense that you have the potential to develop a therapeutic alliance?

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.