What is ADHD?

I’ve been banging on about ADHD, I’ve been teaching about ADHD, I’ve been supporting families with ADHD, I’ve been campaigning about ADHD?

But what on earth is ADHD anyway?

Here are the facts:


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But anyone connected with ADHD hates this acronym.

Your child doesn’t have a deficit of attention – they actually have too much attention, it’s just that this attention is often focussed on not quite the right thing in that moment.

And your child with ADHD is not disordered. They are not damaged, broken or defunct. They have brains which are buzzy, busy and full of amazing thoughts, opinions and ideas.


An ADHD brain is wired differently. Your child is not being deliberately lazy, naughty, forgetful or disorganised.

MRI scans have demonstrated that an ADHD brain looks different and behaves differently to a neurotypical brain.

The neurons are not firing consistantly from the front part of the brain to the other parts of the brain that control actions, impulses and emotions.

ADHD is a neurodiverse condition and is not just naughty behaviour.


Your child may be hyperactive, impulsive or inattentive.

So they may have difficulties with focus, attention and concentrating. Your child may be fidgety, need constant movement or will do things without thinking. Perhaps blurting out secrets or hitting a sibling out of frustration. Maybe making an impulse purchase without considering if they can afford it or not.

Ned Hallowell coined the phrase “Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes“. Your child’s brain is zooming at 100 miles an hour – but doesn’t always have the mechanics to stop and think if this is a good idea.

They may be dreamy, distractable and unable to settle on a task for more than 30 seconds. Flitting from activity to activity and saying they’re bored.

Unless of course the task is highly motivating or urgent – then they will give it full attention and get lost in the project – sometimes forgetting to eat or go to the loo.


Going from calm to angry in 0.2 seconds. Yup, that’s the ADHD brain. Your child gets flooded with emotions really quickly. So they need help and strategies to mitigate the results of angry outbursts or howling meltdowns.

Things like recognising the physical signs and learning to remove themselves from a situation. Practice mindfulness techniques and finding a calm place. Or running, listening to music or stroking the dog. These are all reliable calming techniques that will help when your child is feeling overwhelmed.

But what if you’re in Tesco and you can see things are getting too much? Distraction and acknowledging their feelings help too when things are heading out of control. Quit and leave. No blame. Trial and error. Some things will work one day, but then you’ll need to try something different another day.


Your child may have sensory issues.

They may be sensory seeking – so they may need to chew, respond to hugs and weighted covers, feel they need to stretch, bounce or constantly fiddle or moving their fingers on different surfaces.

Or they may be sensory sensitive – so they may need to cover their ears on hearing loud noises, resist wearing clothes that feel itchy, avoid certain foods, be repelled by some smells or feel yucky touching different textures.

Sensory issues can really affect your child’s behaviour. They are not being fussy, difficult, demanding or belligerent. They are responding to a situation or feeling that they may not fully understand.


Your child may struggle with executive functions. This is the brain just getting stuff done. We know an ADHD brain is wired differently with neurons that need stimulating, so it really is no wonder that your child may struggle with executive functions.

So they will need help and support with initiation of tasks (tidying the bedroom, getting started on a project), organisation (losing stuff, keeping track of money, having the correct equipment), time keeping (being too late or too early), working memory (forgets things that have been asked) and transitions (changing from one thing to another).

Your child needs help, understanding and kindness to get things done by using apps, lists, charts, planners, alarms, Alexa, sync Google calendar, post-its, journals, timers and schedules.


We know an ADHD brain is lagging behind emotionally and socially. So your 10 year old child may be as emotionally mature as a 7 year old. An 18 year old may have the body and hormones of a teenager but will have the maturity of perhaps a 15 year old.

So it’s no wonder your child may have difficulties making friends, saying the right things or having the same interests as their peers.

School is the only institution where we are lumped together according to age. So your child is at a huge disadvantage having to compete with others who have better social cues and emotional understanding.

Your child needs to feel successful so find things they can do well, promote their natural interest and talents. Find something they are the champion of and praise, praise, praise. Be a great role model and help with social cues.


Finally, your child may have a comorbid condition. This means that if they are diagnosed with ADHD they have a high chance of having some other neurodiverse condition such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia or traits of autism.


So your little person may have a huge amount to cope with on a day-to-day basis. There may be quite a few hurdles ahead, but they just need help to successfully clear them.

My advice is to be a behaviour detective. Look at the unwanted behaviour (rudeness, refusal, teasing, aggression) and work out what is your child trying to communicate with you. All behaviour is communication.

You want your child to be an independent adult with the ability to bounce back with emotional resilience when (and it is when) things go wrong. You want to establish a great relationship so you’ll be there to help, not judge or blame.

Your child is a powerhouse of imaginative ideas, incredible thoughts and may have boundless energy.

Let them know that ADHD can be a superpower and that the positives such as curiosity, creativity, persistence, hyper focus can be harnessed for good. Empower your child so they know what they need and can ask for it.

ADHD is real.

Let’s all help with kindness and understanding πŸ’›