How to Recognize ADHD Symptoms at Every Age
Children with ADHD often show symptoms early in life. Here are some signs.
ADHD in the Elementary School Years
There are three forms of ADHD: hyperactivity-impulsivity ADHD, inattention
ADHD, and combined ADHD. During the school years, ADHD in children --
particularly the hyperactive-impulsive form -- often becomes evident in the
classroom. At this stage, children with this form of the disorder often become
disruptive, blurting out answers without raising their hands, getting up from
their seat and moving about the classroom, and talking excessively.
The inattentive form of the condition may be more difficult to spot at this
point. Children with inattention ADHD may have trouble following directions and
completing their schoolwork. They may spend a lot of their time in day dreams,
lose toys or tools needed to do their schoolwork, and avoid tasks that require
concentration, such as reading. Often they are disorganized – and messy. Their
notebooks, backpacks, and desks are often in disarray, says Dana Stempil
Herzberg, head of school at Lexis Preparatory School, a college-prep school in
Scottsdale, Ariz., that focuses on children with ADHD.
ADHD in Adolescence
Particularly for children with the inattentive form of ADHD, adolescence may
be the time it presents a serious problem. For example, if a girl is
inattentive but not hyperactive – especially if she is of above average
intelligence – Karniski says parents may not even suspect ADHD until the sixth
grade, when the workload gets to the point that she can no longer compensate
for it in other ways.
“If she is bright enough, she can compensate for it in grades one, two,
three, four, and five because the teacher is addressing the middle level of the
class, and despite her inattention, she still gets the work done,” Karniski
tells WebMD. “When she has to switch class and has to remember her history
book, and leaves her history book in the locker and takes her math book
instead, and puts her history assignment in her math book, her work begins to
suffer.” The grades of a child who previously excelled in school can take a
Around the time of adolescence, ADHD may also be associated with other
problems, including low self-esteem, depression, and even eating disorders.
Because it’s not always easy for a parent to differentiate between common
adolescent swings in mood and behavior and those related to ADHD or other
causes, experts recommend seeking professional help for any adolescent who
experiences unexplained changes in school performance, mood, energy level, or
When Is It ADHD?
Most children demonstrate many of the symptoms associated with ADHD at least
some of the time, so it can be difficult for parents to decipher the cause of
their behavior. Experts say these symptoms only signal ADHD when they are
persistent and severe enough to affect academic and social abilities.
To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child’s symptoms must have persisted for at
least six months and create a real handicap in at least two areas of the
child’s life, says Marjorie Montague, a professor of special education at the
University of Miami. “It’s really the degree, the excessiveness, of the
behavior,” Montague says.