Wider definition of ADHD could benefit more people with symptoms

Getting diagnosed and treated for attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is about to get easier for the more than 13 million people who struggle with distractibility and other symptoms.

In May, changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will broaden the definition and diagnosis of ADHD, a disorder that affects an estimated 7 percent of school-aged children.

The criteria changes will better describe the course of symptoms over a lifetime, says Dr. James Norcross, a UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrist who specializes in child and teen conditions.

“Research demonstrates that symptoms of ADHD do not go away when a person reaches adulthood; however, they can manifest in different ways,” he says. “Adults generally do not struggle with hyperactivity, but they do have issues with disorganization, inattention, and impulsivity.”

Under the proposed criteria, symptoms can appear any time before age 12 instead of age 7. Also, the number of symptoms required for an ADHD diagnosis will be reduced from six to five.

Another significant change will be in how ADHD is classified in the manual. Instead of being grouped with conduct and oppositional defiant disorders, it will be grouped with neurodevelopment disorders. Classifying it as a neurodevelopment disorder more appropriately describes the etiology and progression across one’s lifetime, Dr. Norcross says.

“It also is very important to have a detailed assessment from a qualified professional to confirm the diagnosis, as symptoms can overlap with other disorders,” he says.

Visit www.utswmedicine.org/conditions-specialties/pediatrics to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in pediatrics.

May is Mental Health Month.

Media Contact: Janice Jarvis

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