Are You Paying Attention?


Growing up in the 80s and 90s I remember a handful of kids at school who struggled to ‘behave’. Back then, they were simply viewed as ‘naughty’. With hindsight, two decades of medical training, and a son awaiting assessment, it is clear that several had ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a behavioural syndrome characterised by a pattern of:  

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity 
  • …that interfers with function. 

Symptoms emerge in childhood, with higher rates seen in boys, perhaps as they tend to display more marked hyperactivity/impulsivity. Inattention, often a stronger feature in girls, more easily ‘slips under the radar’. ADHD affects an estimated 5% of children, a rate that is rising in part due to greater awareness. As with most syndromes, there is no single cause; rather ADHD results from an interplay between mulitple genetic and environmental factors. 

Whether it’s chicken or egg, ADHD is associated with a range of other psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorder and autism. Symptoms overlap greatly in these areas so diagnosis requires specialist assessment. The long NHS wait for this has been in the news recently. It is a source of huge frustration, particularly for parents trying to support children at critical stages of development who are struggling to fit the societal mould. 

For children in Dorset, the pathway to assessment is through their school, starting with a conversation with their class teacher or SENCO. For adults, it’s a conversation with your GP. There are private providers offering ADHD assessments, but some concerns have been raised regarding the risk of over-diagnosis down this route.  

Management of ADHD can be split into three main areas:

  • Day to day behavioural ‘strategies’
  • Formal ‘therapy’
  • Stimulant medication

The use of stimulants sounds paradoxical, but these work by boosting activity in parts of the brain important for controlling attention and behaviour.

The NHS website gives a great overview of ADHD and Dorset Mind outlines some of the support available locally.

Dr Chris Humphrey

Published: May 2, 2024