01 August 2019

5 commonly asked questions about ADHD answered

ADHD can be tricky to diagnose and understand. We put together a list of frequently asked questions – and their answers.

We all have difficulty concentrating from time to time. But for someone with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), not being able to concentrate or pay attention can affect their ability to function on a daily basis. 

ADHD is a chronic developmental neuro-behavioural disorder that can be diagnosed at any stage in life. Symptoms are, however, most prevalent during childhood. Although people with ADHD can lead perfectly normal lives, there are a number of misconceptions about the condition.

While ADHD is largely caused by genetic factors, many people still believe it is caused by bad parenting or poor discipline. Misconceptions like these give ADHD an unnecessary stigma and might even prevent people from obtaining a correct diagnosis and an effective treatment plan.

Here are some commonly asked questions about ADHD:

1. How exactly is ADHD diagnosed?

According to Dr Renata Schoeman, our resident ADHD expert, questionnaires are used in the initial stages to screen potential candidates for ADHD. An accurate diagnosis, however, involves a much more intricate evaluation and comprehensive assessment by a psychiatrist. There is unfortunately no set questionnaire, scale, rating or “computer test”. This is why ADHD can be so tricky to diagnose. If ADHD is suspected, it's best to consult a licensed psychiatrist with a working knowledge of ADHD.

2. How can ADHD be treated?

The diagnosis of ADHD does not mean that your child’s school career is doomed. There are several ways of managing ADHD, usually a combined approach, carefully tailored to the needs of the patient. ADHD will rarely be successfully managed only by medication. Behavioural therapy can work well in conjunction with medication, but may require the input of another medical professional. This is why treating ADHD is often a team effort.

Many children with ADHD can be taught in a normal environment, but there might be a need for special assistance with homework if the child has complex learning difficulties.

3. What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

People often use the abbreviations interchangeably, and sometimes it makes no difference. The lines between ADD and ADHD are very blurry and in many cases it’s hard to define them as separate conditions. ADD (attention deficit disorder) is a type of ADHD that doesn’t present the “hyperactive” component involving fidgety movements. However, in 1994, experts decided that ADHD should be used as an umbrella term, even when hyperactivity isn't present.

4. Is medication always the best option?

There are people who are hesitant to go the medication route for ADHD, but new research has shown that medication is beneficial in most cases. In addition to helping kids calm down and concentrate at school, the research published in The Journal of Adolescent Health also found that the drugs help children avoid many long-term negative consequences associated with ADHD – including depression, substance abuse and even driving problems.

However, it’s important to reiterate that, while medication plays a successful part in treating ADHD, it should always be administered in conjunction with other treatment methods such as behavioural therapy.

5. Ritalin isn’t working for my child. Why?

Ritalin the trade name of the stimulant methylphenidate, and is the most commonly prescribed first line of treatment for ADHD. Ritalin works by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which improves brain activity.

Different formulations and doses are available depending on the severity of the ADHD. While Ritalin is commonly prescribed, it doesn’t mean it is the ideal treatment for everyone with ADHD. It isn't available over the counter and will only be prescribed by a psychiatrist after an evaluation. If the prescribed Ritalin is not working as it should, you should discuss this with your medical professional. Keep in mind that medications that affect the chemistry of the brain require a trial-and-error approach, which means you have to have patience.

Ask about possible side-effects such as loss of appetite or sleep disturbances. Your medical practitioner should also be able to advise you at what time of the day to administer the medication for the best effect. 

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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