Updated 09 January 2019

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurological syndrome that is estimated to affect as many as 1 in 10 children globally.

Occasionally we may all have difficulty sitting still, paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviour. However, for a person with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), these problems become so pervasive and persistent that their ability to function effectively in daily life is compromised.

ADHD is a chronic developmental neuro-behavioural disorder, found in children as well as adults, that’s characterised by poor concentration and organisational skills, easy distractibility, low tolerance for frustration or boredom, a greater tendency to say or do whatever comes to mind (impulsivity), and a predilection for situations with high intensity.

The name “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder” reflects the importance of the inattention/distraction aspect of the disorder, as well as the hyperactivity/impulsivity aspect.

ADHD may be diagnosed at any age, but symptoms are usually identified in early childhood. The condition is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood. 

ADHD affects children in their home and school environment, and in social situations, and may have a negative impact on their cognitive, academic, behavioural and emotional functioning.

Course and prognosis of ADHD

In most people with ADHD, symptoms will never completely go away.

Research shows that, if a child is diagnosed with ADHD, he or she is likely to experience symptoms into early and middle adolescence, and potentially into adulthood. In fact, between 40% and 50% of children continue to experience ADHD symptoms as adults. The rates tend to be similar for males and females.

Even though hyperactivity tends to improve as an ADHD child becomes a teenager, academic and social functioning may still be affected – mostly due to poor planning and organisational skills, and impulsive behaviour. Unfortunately, this may affect the child’s self-esteem and social skills. Some children develop antisocial behaviour, become impulsive, abuse substances and/or drop out of school.

The good news is that most children with ADHD grow into well-functioning adults who are gainfully employed. Many achieve higher-level education and go on to build successful careers. Research also indicates that two thirds of children with ADHD show no evidence of a mental disorder in adulthood.

The correct treatment, as well as a structured, clear, organised upbringing, can help a child with ADHD become a well-balanced teenager and adult.

Reviewed by Prof André Venter, Head: Clinical Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State. MB ChB, MMed, PhD (Canada), DCH, FCP (Paed) SA. July 2018.

Read more:
Symptoms of ADHD


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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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