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What is the clinical definition of ADHD?

The following are some of the criteria for diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for ADD/ADHD, which is the standard reference among mental health professionals. While this definition is not perfect, I include it as it is the most commonly accepted definition.

DSM-IV CRITERIA FOR ADHD

  • Either A or B:
    • Six or more of the following symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months to a point that is inappropriate for developmental level:
      INATTENTION
      • Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
      • Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
      • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
      • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
      • Often has trouble organizing activities.
      • Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
      • Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
      • Is often easily distracted.
      • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
    • Six or more of the following symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for developmental level:
      HYPERACTIVITY
      • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat when sitting still is expected.
      • Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
      • Often excessively runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
      • Often has trouble playing or doing leisure activities quietly.
      • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”.
      • Often talks excessively.
      • Impulsivity
      • Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
      • Often has trouble waiting one’s turn.
      • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
  • Some symptoms that cause impairment were present before age 7 years.
  • Some impairment from the symptoms is present in two or more settings (e.g. at school/work and at home).
  • There must be clear evidence of clinically significant impairment in social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms do not happen only during the course of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder. The symptoms are not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g. Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, or a Personality Disorder).

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, via the CDC