ATTENTION Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, often abbreviated to ADHD for ease of use, is one of the most common behavioural disorders diagnosed in children.

Until recently, it was assumed that affected individuals were identified before becoming teenagers. However it is increasingly recognised that the condition affects adults too, many of whom were not diagnosed as children, their behaviour put down to being “difficult individuals”. Sadly they will not have received the appropriate help as a result. The aim of ADHD Awareness Month is to raise the profile and also reduce any stigma attached to the condition.

The classic triad of features associated with ADHD are lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. Often symptoms become noticeable during periods of change, for example when starting school, or after a major life event in the family, such as bereavement.

Many children display restlessness and inattention at points, but that does not mean they have ADHD.

Symptoms need to be there in most settings, ie at school and at home, for the majority of the time. ADHD often manifests as poor school performance, difficult interactions with peers and adults, and lack of discipline.

It is often noticed by several individuals who come into contact with the child.

ADHD runs in families, although no single gene has been identified. It is more common in babies born before 37 weeks gestation, as well as those whose mothers smoked, used alcohol and/or recreational drugs during the pregnancy.

If you feel you or your child may have symptoms of ADHD, it is important to speak to your GP as a first port of call.

Many other conditions, both physical and mental, can mimic ADHD, so it is important that these are also explored. In addition, for diagnosis in an adult, symptoms must have been present since childhood.

The diagnosis of ADHD is made by specialists with an interest in the condition, and will require several sessions of assessment with the individual.

Teams are made up of child psychiatrists, paediatricians and those with training in learning disabilities. There are strict criteria to avoid over diagnosis or incorrectly labelling a person.

Treatment is based upon the degree to which symptoms interfere with daily life.

The aim is to help the individual to live as normal an existence as possible. Methylphenidate (trade name Ritalin) is a first line drug. Other therapies involve counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and importantly, support of the family as a whole.

Patient experiences often make it easier to understand why you should come forward if you feel you have ADHD, regardless of your age. One sufferer, Robyn Wilder, who was only diagnosed at the age of 42, shares her insight.

“The legacy of a lifetime of undiagnosed ADHD can be more detrimental than the ADHD symptoms themselves,” she says.

“I’ve spent my life berating myself about not “being better”, because those are the messages I internalised from my own family, teachers, managers and previous boyfriends, who thought my lack of focus was a choice, and not a disability.”