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Disability and Dyslexia Service

What is ADHD?

Please click on the links below for further information about how ADHD is defined, its symptoms, associated strengths and other conditions that present similarly.

Defining ADHD         



Co-occurring conditions

Defining ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 as a childhood-onset neurodevelopmental disorder, defined by the presence of developmentally inappropriate and impairing levels of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

There are three types of ADHD:

  1. hyperactive-impulsive type
  2. inattentive type (sometimes referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder)
  3. combined type

The DSM-5 states that to make a diagnosis of ADHD, it would be expected that several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present prior to age 12 years (APA, 2013). The symptoms of ADHD can change as the individual ages; therefore symptoms may differ as the individual moves through their education. For example, a tendency to frequently find an excuse to move around within the classroom can change to a requirement to pace around the room while speaking on the telephone.

In the UK, ADHD can be diagnosed as a medical condition and as a Specific Learning Difference (SpLD). You can find more information on the two types of diagnosis here.


Symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD include:

  • difficulties concentrating
  • being unable to sit still
  • fidgeting
  • excessive talking and/or interrupting others
  • acting impulsively without thinking of the consequences
  • little or no sense of danger


Symptoms of inattentive type ADHD include:

  • difficulties concentrating
  • being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes e.g. in your academic work
  • difficulties with organisation
  • being forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick to tasks that are repetitive or time-consuming
  • constantly changing task
  • difficulties listening to or carrying out instructions


Individuals with ADHD report the following strengths and benefits of the condition:

  • hyperfocus that allows for more efficient working
  • resilience
  • creativity and problem-solving skills
  • being innovative
  • being able to see the bigger picture
  • being solution-focused
  • adventurousness
  • enjoying new experiences
  • high levels of energy
  • comfortable with change and pressured situations

Co-occurring conditions

The symptoms of ADHD can overlap with characteristics of other Specific Learning Differences and mental health conditions. For example, a weak auditory/working memory, typically observed in a profile of dyslexia or dyspraxia, can cause distractibility and challenges in attention and concentration.

Similarly, anxiety can cause mind wandering and restlessness and depression can cause concentration problems. Other mental health issues can also be at the root of impulsive behaviour, overactivity and restlessness or distractibility. 

There are currently many self-diagnosis tools for ADHD available online and it can sometimes be hard to distinguish whether your symptoms indicate the presence of ADHD or are indicative of another condition. While platforms like TikTok and Instagram are making information on mental health and wellbeing more accessible, it is important to bear in mind that information isn’t always credible and posts may have been made by content creators and not health professionals or mental health experts.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your studies and want to explore assessment for ADHD, you are advised to seek guidance from your GP or the Disability and Dyslexia Service. More information on different diagnostic routes for ADHD can be found here.

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