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ADHD in Children Health Center

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How to Recognize ADHD Symptoms at Every Age

By Marianne Wait
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

Think your child may have ADHD? Think you might? Symptoms vary, and no two people are alike. Only an expert can say for sure. But there are clues at every age.

There are three types of ADHD:

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ADHD Medications and Scary Side Effects

Elaine Taylor-Klaus's daughter developed facial tics not long after starting medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The tics came on suddenly while she was performing in a school play and were noticeable even from the back of the auditorium, where her mother was watching. They frightened Taylor-Klaus. "I thought, oh my gosh, what's going on?" Taylor-Klaus remembers. "I started to cry." Fortunately, Taylor-Klaus got reassurance quickly. A friend at the same play told her...

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  • Hyperactive-impulsive
  • Inattentive
  • A combination of both

Each has different symptoms, and they can change with age.

ADHD in Toddlers and Preschoolers

Little kids are an active and unruly bunch. So how can you tell if one has ADHD? Usually, their unruly behavior is extreme.

These kids are "running, jumping, climbing on everything, they can't sit still, they talk all the time," says Steven Cuffe, MD, of the University of Florida Health, Jacksonville. "They're often described as 'on the go' or 'driven by a motor.'"

Russell A. Barkley, PhD, of the Medical University of South Carolina, describes fidgeting and restless behavior: "They simply can't concentrate very long on anything," even a bedtime story.

But some kids with ADHD can focus on things they are interested in, like certain toys or video games.

While you may see warning signs early on, the diagnosis usually comes a little later. A doctor can help you with strategies for parenting.

ADHD in Elementary School Kids

Not all children with ADHD are hyperactive. But if a child is, it will show during the school-age years. You may notice other symptoms, too. He may be unable to focus, and he may have trouble making good decisions or planning things. "What you're seeing is a blossoming of a more and more complex disorder," Barkley says.

He may also have more trouble than other kids his age with:

  • Sharing
  • Taking turns
  • Letting others talk
  • Finishing homework or chores
  • Keeping track of things like homework and books

Also, a child with ADHD can be emotional, Barkley says. If something frustrates him, "you're going to see that frustration come out." If you say you might take him to a movie, he may ask about it nonstop. "If you say no, they're going to blow up."

Because he may act without thinking things through, your child may be accident-prone.

There is no test for ADHD. Many kids have some signs, but for an ADHD diagnosis, several signs need to be present for at least 6 months, and they have to be taking a toll on the child's social life and schoolwork, Cuffe says.

Once you know your child has ADHD, you and your doctor will talk about treatments. They most often include both medication and behavioral therapy. You may need to try different things before you settle on the right treatments.

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