What Is ADHD?

ADHD is the most common childhood psychiatric disorder, affecting behavior and daily functioning in 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children in the United States.

  • Symptoms. Children may act quickly without thinking and interrupt others (impulsivity), fidget, have difficulty sitting still and staying on-task hyperactivity), or daydream and get easily sidetracked (inattention).
  • Three types. ADHD is diagnosed as the hyperactive impulsive type (no significant inattention), inattentive type (no significant hyperactive impulsive behavior) or the combined type (both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms).
  • Other disorders. Children with ADHD can suffer from other psychological disorders,including depression, learning disorders, impulse control disorders and autism spectrum disorders. Adults may suffer from substance abuse.
  • Life-long management. ADHD is a chronic illness requiring long-term treatment strategies.

Revealing the inner workings of the brain

MIND researchers are using neuroimaging studies to better characterize abnormalities of brain function and circuitry associated with ADHD. Studies using functional neuroimaging (fMRI) in particular have revealed that the brains of people with ADHD are less efficient that those without the diagnosis. Brain imaging techniques also reveal that people with ADHD may use alternate brain regions and strategies to perform working memory tasks, such as a greater reliance on regions associated with visual and motor processing (e.g., visualizing a phone number in their head to remember it) than verbal strategies (e.g., repeating a phone number to oneself). Drug treatment improves behavior and cognitive performance but does not wholly “normalize” the brain.

Exploring new treatment options

Treatment usually includes:

Behavioral therapy.  Traditional approaches to parent behavior therapy and classroom management rely on consistently rewarding desirable behavior and removing rewards for inappropriate behavior. New studies of the brain are allowing MIND researchers to take behavioral therapy for ADHD to the next level. They hope to identify how to deliver rewards in ways that increase self-control and engage brain regions (e.g., prefrontal cortex) associated with stopping impulsive acts. To help children with ADHD succeed in the classroom, the MIND Institute team is committed to developing educational strategies that are consistent with the natural processing strategies of individuals with ADHD.

Drug therapy.  Stimulants have long been used to treat ADHD. However, 20 percent of children receive no benefit from these drugs or suffer side effects that limit their use. MIND Institute researchers are conducting clinical trials  of novel drugs and new treatment regimens using existing drugs.

Novel treatment. New treatments are being tested routinely. The MIND Institute is currently testing the use of computerized working memory programs on academic functioning. We are also testing the use of telemedicine to deliver parent training services in the goal of reaching families in remote areas.

Raising awareness, establishing community

From recognizing symptoms to evaluating treatment options, raising awareness about ADHD is the key to early diagnosis and effective treatment. The ADHD Program strives to serve as an information and training resource for parents, physicians and teachers. The research team is building a community of patients who can support one another and contribute to the MIND Institute’s mission to better understand and treat ADHD.

Giving Opportunity

The clinical and research activities of the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Program are funded through philanthropic, local and government grants.  We welcome private contributions to help fund the development of our clinical programs and research activities to help us find better ways to address issues of attention and self-control that impact individuals and families with ADHD and other disorders that involve problems with attention, memory and self-control.

To donate, please go to the Health Systems' Online Donation Form and designate “ADHD – UC Davis MIND Institute” in the “special instructions for this gift”.

-back to top