Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder affects three to five percent of all children, perhaps as many as two million American children. Two to three more boys than girls are affected. On the average, at least one child in every classroom in the United States needs help for the disorder. ADHD often continues into adolescence and adulthood, and can cause a lifetime of frustrating dreams and emotional pain (NIMH Pamphlet, 1996).

According to the DSM-IV, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that occurs more frequently and appears to be more severe than typically observed in other individuals at a comparable level of development (Criterion A). Hyperactivity-impulsive or inattentive symptoms that interfere with function must have been present before age 7 years. However, many individuals are diagnosed after the symptoms have been present for a number of years (Criterion B). The impairment related to the symptoms must be exhibited in at least two settings (e.g., at home and at school or work) (Criterion C). Evidence of interference with developmentally appropriate academic, social, or occupational functioning must be clear (Criterion D). The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a Schizophrenia, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or other Psychotic Disorder and is not accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., a Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociate Disorder, or Personality Disorder) (Criterion E). (DSM-IV: American Psychiatric Association 1994).

At present, ADHD is a diagnosis applied to children and adults who consistently display certain characteristic behaviors over a period of time. The most common behaviors fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Inattention. People who are inattentive have a hard time keeping their mind on any one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. They may give effortless, automatic attention to activities and things they enjoy. But focusing deliberate, conscious attention to organizing and completing a task or learning something new is difficult.

Hyperactivity. People who are hyperactive always seem to be in motion, they cant sit still, they may dash around or talk incessantly. Sitting still through a lesson can be an impossible task. Hyperactive children squirm in their seat or roam around the room. Or they might wiggle their feet, touch everything, or noisily tap their pencil. Hyperactive teens and adults may feel intensely restless. They may be fidgety or they may try to do several things at once, bouncing around from one activity to the next.

Impulsivity. People who are overly impulsive seem unable to curb their immediate reactions or think before they act. As a result they may blurt out inappropriate comments. Or they may run into the street without looking. Their impulsivity may make it hard for them to wait for things they want or to take their turn in games. They may grab a toy from another child or hit when they're upset (NIMH Pamphlet).

Health professionals stress that since no one knows what causes ADHD, it doesn't help for parents to look backward to search for possible reasons. There are too many possibilities to pin down the cause with certainty. It is more important for the family to move forward in finding ways to get the right help.

Scientists, however, do need to study causes in an effort to identify better ways to treat, and perhaps someday cure ADHD. They are finding more and more evidence that ADHD does not stem from home environment, but from biological causes, there is no clear relationship between home life and ADHD. Not all children from unstable or dysfunctional homes have ADHD. And not all children with ADHD come from dysfunctional families. Knowing this can remove a huge burden of guilt from parents who might blame themselves for their child's behavior.

Over the last decade, scientists have come up with possible theories about what causes ADHD. Some of these theories have lead to dead ends, some exciting new avenues of investigation.

One disappointing theory was that all attention disorders and learning disabilities were caused by minor head injuries or undetectable damage to the brain, perhaps from early infection or complications at birth. Based on this theory, for many years both disorders were called "minimal brain damage" or "minimal brain dysfunction." Although certain types of head injury can explain some cases of attention disorder, the theory was rejected