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Home: Related Disorders: ADD: Disability Named ADD

The Disability Named ADD


Approximately 3-5% of all American children -- up to 3.5 million children -- have an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It is a leading cause of school failure and under-achievement. ADD is often accompanied by poor self-esteem and behavioral difficulties. It is a neurobiologically based disability. Diagnosing ADD requires a multi-faceted evaluation examining medical, psychological and educational functioning.


  • ADD is a neurobiological disability. It is characterized by attention skills that are developmentally inappropriate, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity.
  • Children with ADD comprise approximately 3-5% of the school age population. Boys significantly outnumber girls, though girls are more likely to be undiagnosed.
  • As many as 50% of children with ADD are never diagnosed.
  • ADD characteristics often arise in early childhood. ADD is marked by behaviors that are chronic, lasting at least six months with onset before age seven. Characteristics of children with ADD can include:
    • fidgeting with hands or feet
    • difficult remaining seated
    • difficulty awaiting turns in games
    • difficulty following through on instructions
    • shifting from one uncompleted task to another
    • difficulty playing quietly
    • interrupting conversations and intruding into other children's games
    • appearing to be not listening to what is being said
    • doing things that are dangerous without thinking about the consequences
  • Approximately 80% of children with ADD will meet the criteria for this diagnosis in adolescence. Previously, it was believed that ADD resolved itself before or during adolescence.
  • Children with ADD are often attracted to novel stimuli and can be easily distracted by the environment. What is stimulating may change with the moment, and may not be what a parent or teacher considers important. Put simply, these children know what is attention grabbing, but they often can't determine what is relevant to the task at hand.
  • Researchers believe that ADD is due to altered brain biochemistry. Differences in biochemistry are considered to be the cause of poor regulation of attention, impulsivity and motor activity.
  • In 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine published a landmark study by researchers at the National Institute for Mental Health which documented the neurobiological underpinnings of ADD through brain imaging. The rate at which the brain uses glucose, its main energy source, was shown to be lower in persons with ADD, especially in the portion of the brain that is responsible for attention, handwriting, motor control and inhibition responses.
  • ADD students have a greater likelihood of grade retention, school drop out, academic under-achievement and social and emotional adjustment difficulties. This is probably due to the fact that ADD makes children vulnerable to failure in the two most important arenas for developmental mastery -- school and peer relations.
  • Making and keeping friends is a difficult task for children with ADD. A variety of behavioral excesses and deficits common to these children get in the way of friendships. They may talk too much, dominate activities, intrude in others' games, or quit a game before its done. They may be unable to pay attention to what another child is saying, not respond when someone else tries to initiate an activity, or exhibit inappropriate behavior.
  • Determining if a child has ADD is a multi-faceted process. Many biological and psychological problems can contribute to symptoms similar to those exhibited by children with ADD.
  • A comprehensive assessment of a child or adolescent suspected of having ADD should include an evaluation of medical, psychological, educational and behavioral functioning.
  • ADD has often been inaccurately portrayed as a type of specific learning disability (SLD). It is not. Children with ADD do not have trouble learning, but have difficulty performing in school due to poor organization, impulsivity, and inattention. Indeed, they are not unable to learn, they are simply unavailable to learn.
  • Children with ADD do not routinely show signs of serious emotional disturbance (SED), but they may exhibit problems with self-esteem if not properly treated.

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Modified January 9, 2003

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