All young children have a limited attention span and sometimes do things without thinking. If these are severe enough to interfere with their learning and social relationships, in more than one setting, they can be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Let's talk about ADHD

This animation discusses what it means to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It was co-produced by children with ADHD, their families and carers, and health professionals in the field. It is based on research evidence as well as ideas from children and individuals with lived experienced of ADHD. The animation is part of a Wellcome funded project led by Cardiff University.


Key points about ADHD-Aroreretini

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD-Aroreretini is a developmental problem
  • children with ADHD-Aroreretini may have poor concentration, poor control of impulses and can be overactive
  • children with ADHD-Aroreretini need support and understanding from whānau, teachers and the community
  • not all children who are inattentive, impulsive and overactive have ADHD-Aroreretini
  • medicine, positive parenting strategies and school support can help children with ADHD-Aroreretini and their families

What are the names for ADHD-Aroreretini?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Māori word for ADHD is aroreretini - attention goes to many things.

Some people say ADD - attention deficit disorder.

What is ADHD-Aroreretini?

ADHD-Aroreretini is a developmental problem. Children and young people with ADHD-Aroreretini may have poor concentration, poor control of impulses and can be overactive. This interferes with their ability to learn and socialise and can affect family functioning.

Children with ADHD-Aroreretini may be labelled as naughty but this is not true. Children with ADHD-Aroreretini need support and understanding from whānau, teachers and the community.

How common is ADHD-Aroreretini?

At least 5 of every 100 children have ADHD-Aroreretini. It is more common in boys than girls. Girls with ADHD-Aroreretini show more inattention and are less disruptive. They are less likely to be diagnosed or may be diagnosed later.

It might seem like there are more children with ADHD-Aroreretini now than in the past. This is probably because of better recognition of ADHD-Aroreretini.

ADHD-Aroreretini occurs in children and adults. ADHD-Aroreretini symptoms usually improve with age. But a significant number of children with ADHD-Aroreretini will continue to have symptoms as adults. They may need ongoing help.

What causes ADHD-Aroreretini?

No one knows the exact cause of ADHD-Aroreretini but it is likely to be a combination of factors. These include genetics - children with ADHD-Aroreretini are more likely to have a family member with ADHD-Aroreretini.

ADHD-Aroreretini can also be associated with:

  • alcohol, smoking or drug exposure in pregnancy
  • being born prematurely or having a low birth weight

There is no good evidence that ADHD-Aroreretini is caused by children eating too much sugar or food additives, although this is a commonly held view.

What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD-Aroreretini?

Children with ADHD-Aroreretini have 3 types of main difficulties. Children with ADHD-Aroreretini may struggle with one of these areas of difficulty or with all three. As children get older, the symptoms can change.

Inattention (difficulty concentrating or focusing)

Has difficulty focusing on just one thing, is easily distracted, forgets instructions, moves from one task to another without completing anything, doesn't listen when directly spoken to, makes careless mistakes, has difficulty organising tasks and activities, daydreams a lot, appears forgetful or loses things a lot.

Acting impulsively

Talks over people, 'butts in', loses control of emotions easily, is accident prone, has difficulty waiting for their turn, acts without thinking, has little or no sense of danger.

Overactivity or hyperactivity

Is unable to sit still and constantly fidgets, leaves their seat in situations where remaining seated is expected, is unable to play quietly, behaves 'as though driven by a motor', talks too much.

How is ADHD-Aroreretini diagnosed?

In New Zealand, a diagnosis of ADHD-Aroreretini may be made by a paediatrician, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, or a psychologist.

Gathering information

The health professional will meet with you and your child. They will gather information from you and your child's school. This might include some questionnaires for you and your child's teacher to complete.

There is no single test to diagnose ADHD-Aroreretini. Making a diagnosis may take more than one appointment.

Making a diagnosis of ADHD-Aroreretini

For a diagnosis of ADHD-Aroreretini, the symptoms need to be obvious in more than one setting of a child's life (such as home and school or daycare).

The symptoms also need to be having an impact on day to day functioning.

It's important to make sure the symptoms are not due to another problem like hearing difficulties, sleep problems, learning difficulties.

Can children with ADHD-Aroreretini sometimes have other problems?

Yes. Children with ADHD-Aroreretini are more likely to have:

  • learning difficulties
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • disruptive behaviour

If you are worried about other problems, talk to your health professional.

What should I do if I think my child might have ADHD-Aroreretini?

If you are concerned about your child, talk to your family doctor and teacher. Sometimes teachers may be the first to raise concerns and suggest that you and your child see your family doctor.

Your family doctor may arrange a referral to a paediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist to make an assessment.

What treatments are available for ADHD-Aroreretini?

There is no cure for ADHD-Aroreretini, but in most cases, symptoms can be managed.

In preschool children diagnosed with ADHD-Aroreretini, behaviour and parenting strategies usually help.

In school aged children, behavioural strategies work best in combination with medicine. Your child may also be able to get extra support at school. Talk to your child's teacher.

Behaviour strategies can help

Positive parenting programmes

Having a child with ADHD can be more challenging as a parent. It helps to learn a range of strategies so that if the first thing you try doesn't work, you have other options in your parenting toolbox.

You can learn more about general parenting courses that are likely to help parent a child with ADHD.

Check KidsHealth to find out about parenting support for your child's emotions and behaviour

Home and classroom strategies

Check the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne website.

Find out about ways to help children at home and school


Sometimes your health professional may suggest counselling for your child or your family.


Stimulants are an effective treatment

In school-aged children, medicines called 'stimulants' are the most effective treatment for ADHD-Aroreretini. For some children, a combination of behaviour therapy and medicine works even better.

Parents and teachers often notice that children with ADHD-Aroreretini have a significant improvement in their symptoms when they start taking medicine.

How stimulants can help

Stimulant medicine can help your child with ADHD-Aroreretini to:

  • concentrate better
  • be less impulsive
  • feel calmer
  • learn and practice new skills

Stimulants are safe

While some parents may understandably feel cautious about starting their child on this medicine, it is important to know that stimulant medicines do not affect your child's personality or brain, and are not addictive. These medicines have been used safely for many years in children with ADHD-Aroreretini.


    The most common stimulant medicine in New Zealand is methylphenidate. This has a number of different names such as Ritalin or Rubifen. Methylphenidate comes in different forms. Some tablets release the medicine immediately (such as Ritalin and Rubifen) and others release it into the body more slowly over the day (such as Ritalin LA and Rubifen SR).

    It may take some time for your doctor and you to find the dose and timing that works best for your child.

    Find out more about methylphenidate

    Common side effects of methylphenidate

    Some side effects can be reduced by starting on a low dose. If your child develops any side effects, talk to your doctor.

    Common side effects of methylphenidate may include:

    • mild tummy discomfort
    • mild headache
    • loss of appetite
    • difficulty getting to sleep

    Some children can become sad or withdrawn on methylphenidate. It's important to talk to your doctor if this happens to your child. They may need to try another medicine.

    Other medicines

    There are other stimulants such as dexamphetamine. Your doctor may suggest this if your child cannot take methylphenidate or if methylphenidate has not improved your child's symptoms.

    If stimulant medicines do not work for your child, there are other medicines you can use. Your doctor can tell you more about these.

    Animated videos to help children understand ADHD

    You can watch a series of animated videos 'Me and My ADHD'. They aim to help children understand ADHD. 
    There is a parents' guide to the child video series (PDF, 513KB).  

    Watch 'That's Me, I Have ADHD!' (Centre For ADHD Awareness, Canada)

    Watch 'When my ADHD gets me into trouble' (Centre For ADHD Awareness, Canada)

    Watch 'My ADHD at school' (Centre For ADHD Awareness, Canada)

    This page last reviewed 12 September 2022.

    Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it