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Symptoms of ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 14, 2021

Could someone you know have ADHD? Maybe they're inattentive. Or they might be hyperactive and impulsive. They might have all those traits.

There are three groups of symptoms:

  1. Inattention
  2. Hyperactivity
  3. Impulsivity

Symptoms of ADHD usually show up when kids are young: around age 12 on average. But they can show up much earlier. Some kids have been diagnosed by age 3.

Inattention

You might not notice it until a child goes to school. In adults, it may be easier to notice at work or in social situations.

The person might procrastinate, not complete tasks like homework or chores, or frequently move from one uncompleted activity to another.

They might also:

  • Be disorganized
  • Lack focus
  • Have a hard time paying attention to details and a tendency to make careless mistakes. Their work might be messy and seem careless.
  • Have trouble staying on topic while talking, not listening to others, and not following social rules
  • Be forgetful about daily activities (for example, missing appointments, forgetting to bring lunch)
  • Be easily distracted by things like trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others.
  • Have a hard time getting along with others because they can’t read people’s feelings and moods
  • Daydream a lot
  • Be too wrapped up in their own thoughts to hear you

Hyperactivity

It may vary with age. You might be able to notice it in preschoolers. ADHD symptoms nearly always show up before middle school.

Kids with hyperactivity may:

  • Fidget and squirm when seated
  • Get up frequently to walk or run around
  • Run or climb a lot when it's not appropriate. (In teens, this may seem like restlessness.)
  • Have trouble playing quietly or doing quiet hobbies
  • Always be "on the go"
  • Talk excessively

Toddlers and preschoolers with ADHD tend to be constantly in motion, jumping on furniture and having trouble participating in group activities that call for them to sit still. For instance, they may have a hard time listening to a story.

School-age children have similar habits, but you may notice those less often. They are unable to stay seated, squirm a lot, fidget, or talk a lot.

Hyperactivity can show up as feelings of restlessness in teens and adults. They may also have a hard time doing quiet activities where you sit still.

Impulsivity

Symptoms of this include:

  • Impatience
  • Having a hard time waiting to talk or react

The person might:

  • Have a hard time waiting for their turn.
  • Blurt out answers before someone finishes asking them a question.
  • Frequently interrupt or intrude on others. This often happens so much that it causes problems in social or work settings. Friends might get mad at them or get their feelings hurt because they may act without thinking.
  • Start conversations at inappropriate times.

Impulsivity can lead to accidents, like knocking over objects or banging into people. Children with ADHD may also do risky things without stopping to think about the consequences. For instance, they may climb and put themselves in danger.

Many of these symptoms happen from time to time in all youngsters. But in children with the disorder they happen a lot -- at home and school, or when visiting with friends. They also mess with the child's ability to function like other children who are the same age or developmental level.

Getting Diagnosed

There’s no single test for ADHD.

Your child’s doctor will want to know their symptoms and when they started. They may want to do some tests to rule out other health problems that could change the way your child acts. They might also want to send your child to a children’s mental health specialist, like a child psychologist or psychiatrist, for a more detailed checkup. These doctors may ask to speak to other adults in your child’s life, like coaches or teachers. Only then -- if your child meets the criteria for ADHD -- will they be diagnosed.

Doctors check for behavior that:

  • Is not typical for the person’s age. (Most children can behave in those ways at some point or another, though.)
  • Has a negative impact on the person’s ability to function at home, in social environments, or at work.

They also have to consistently display at least six of the above symptoms:

  • For at least 6 months
  • And in at least two settings, such as at home and in school

Long-Term Outlook

Overall, hyperactivity tends to diminish with age. But inattention tends to last into adulthood.

Treatment can help. And a great many children with ADHD ultimately adjust. Some -- about 20% to 30% -- have learning problems that ADHD treatment may not help, though.

As they grow older, some teens who've had the disorder since childhood may have periods of anxiety or depression. When there are more demands at school or home, symptoms of ADHD may get worse.

A child with hyperactive behavior may get symptoms of other disruptive disorders, like oppositional-defiant disorder.

These children are especially at risk to be more likely to drop out of school. If you’re concerned, talk to your or your child’s doctor about your treatment options. Medications, behavioral therapy, and other tactics can help.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

CDC: "Symptoms of ADHD." 

American Psychiatric Association. 

Searight, H.R.  Am Fam Physician, November 2000. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-V). 

National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Hyperactivity Disorder.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Early Warning Signs of ADHD.”

The National Resource on ADHD: “For Parents & Caregivers.”

American Psychological Association: “ADHD Among Preschoolers.”

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