Resources for Parents

Resources for Parents

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Takeaways for busy parents:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an umbrella term that now includes both Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD presentations.
  • ADHD is a diagnosis that affects roughly 9.4% of children, often diagnosed in early childhood.
  • Children with ADHD-Inattentive Type may make careless mistakes on classwork, appear to be daydreaming in school, be easily distracted by external stimuli, struggle to follow through on tasks, or dislike activities requiring a high level of attention.
  • Those with ADHD-Hyperactive/ Impulsive Type often fidget or squirm in their seats, appear more hyperactive than their peers, may be overly talkative, interrupt often, or have difficulty waiting their turn.
  • The most common type of ADHD is the Combined Type, including both inattentive and hyperactive/ impulsive symptoms.

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder Explained

Many adults have preconceived notions of how Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, can present in childhood. However, when asking about the most common symptoms of ADHD, we often hear the same description: a child who is too hyperactive, disruptive, or gets in trouble too often. These descriptions only account for a fraction of kids with ADHD. ADHD is a complex diagnosis with three subtypes, and a child must meet specific criteria to receive a diagnosis.

According to the CDC, approximately 9.4% of children are diagnosed with ADHD. As with any neurodiversity, we expect that signs vary from one individual to the next. Understanding the diagnostic signs and symptoms of ADHD helps to support early detection, leading to helpful interventions for your child at a younger age.

The criteria for clinicians diagnosing ADHD derives from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the handbook used by healthcare professionals to guide the diagnosis of mental health disorders. According to the latest publication, the DSM-5 indicates the three types of ADHD. We often think of "ADHD" as the umbrella term for the diagnosis, with three different subtypes underneath it:

ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (ADHD-I):

  • These children often make careless mistakes in schoolwork or at home, like handing in assignments without names or missing essential details.
  • They may have difficulty sustaining attention in tasks that are not motivating. These children may "hyper-focus" on internally reinforcing activities, such as constructing a Lego set or creating an art project, yet struggle to hold any attention throughout mundane activities.
  • Kids with ADHD-I often have parents and teachers saying that "they just don't seem to hear what I say." It can be difficult for children to listen when spoken directly to as their minds may wander.
  • These children are often easily distracted by external stimuli, such as a nearby window or a group of children whispering to each other in the classroom.
  • They may struggle to follow through on tasks and often lose focus or become easily sidetracked. They often fail to finish schoolwork unless they have the external push of an upcoming deadline.
  • These children may dislike or avoid activities that require a high level of sustained attention.
  • Kids with ADHD-I often show difficulty organizing tasks. They may struggle to organize their schoolwork or manage their time appropriately.
  • These children may lose items frequently. These kids need to purchase a new water bottle every few weeks because they cannot remember where they placed it or come home without the required schoolwork.
  • They may be forgetful in daily activities, such as remembering to brush their teeth or put their shoes on.

ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive/ Impulsive Presentation (ADHD-HI):

  • These kids may often fidget or squirm around in their seats more than other children.
  • These children leave their seats when seating is expected of them. They may leave their place in the classroom or bounce out of their seat during dinnertime.
  • They may run around or climb in situations where this behavior isn't expected. These children may be climbing all over the furniture, even though they intellectually understand where their bodies should be instead.
  • These children struggle to play or engage in quiet activities. These kids may require significant external attention to focus on specific activities.
  • These kids may be more talkative than other children. They may talk in excess with their friend groups or speak over a teacher.
  • They may blurt out an answer before a question has been completed. Some of these children may jump in to complete someone else's sentence.
  • It's said that these children often appear as if they are "driven by a motor" or unable to remain still. These kids may become uncomfortable and restless sitting for long periods and need to keep their bodies moving.
  • These children have difficulty waiting their turn. They may struggle with waiting in lines, waiting their turn in a game, or even waiting to speak in conversations.
  • They interrupt or intrude inappropriately. For instance, these kids may butt into conversations or may intrude on someone's activity without asking or an invitation.

ADHD Combined Presentation (ADHD-C):

  • The most common ADHD presentation, the Combined Type, is diagnosed when a child meets six or more symptoms for each subtype. These children are both hyperactive/ impulsive and inattentive.

Any clinician giving an ADHD diagnosis must do their due diligence to rule out any other mental health disorders. It is beneficial to interview other important informants in a child's life beyond their immediate caregivers (e.g., teacher, paraprofessional, nanny, or caregiver). To properly diagnose ADHD, a certain number of core symptoms listed above must be present for at least six months. Several symptoms (6+) must be present before the age of 12 and must be present in more than one setting (e.g., home, school, playground, etc.). Most importantly, and with most mental health diagnoses, there must be clear evidence that a child's symptoms interfere with or reduce the quality of the home, school, or social functioning.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of ADHD in children supports early intervention for children and their families. Giving kids and families lifelong tools is essential to help their ADHD symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant nor intended to be health care advice or treatment. Should you need assistance with any mental health or psychological issue, including any parenting issues, you should contact a mental health professional.