Although the symptoms of ADHD vary in both type and severity from child to child, those with the condition almost always show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity before the age of 7. Symptoms are evident in more than one setting, such as at home and in school.
In school, for example, children with ADHD often have difficulty following directions, focusing on class activities, organizing tasks, and finishing tests or classroom assignments within time limits. Completing homework in a consistent and timely manner—and then remembering to turn it in—is frequently a problem.
It's important for parents to remember that such symptoms may instead indicate other common causes of academic failure, such as learning disabilities or depression. This is particularly true in teenagers, who may seem to be inattentive or impulsive when in fact they are unmotivated, oppositional, depressed, or abusing alcohol or drugs. A reasonable approach to helping your teen with declining academic performance might include: a conference with teachers to explore attendance, homework performance, and attitude; additional study time; limiting use of the TV, video games, and phones; assessment for depression; and further evaluation for ADHD, if necessary.
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Often, inattentiveness is not noticed until a child reaches elementary school. At that point, teachers and parents realize that he or she:
- Has a difficult time staying focused on the task at hand, whether it's paying heed to the teacher or eating lunch; is easily distracted by noises or sounds or other activity in the room
- Does not seem to listen and appears to daydream
- Does not seem to care about details and makes careless mistakes
- Does not follow instructions or finish tasks
- Is disorganized
- Loses important assignments and belongings frequently
- Forgets things
- Resists activities that require ongoing mental effort
Hyperactivity in children can be apparent in toddlers or preschoolers but can fluctuate in intensity with growth and development. A child with hyperactivity:
- Is in constant motion, as if driven by a motor
- Cannot stay seated
- Squirms and fidgets
- Talks too much and finds it difficult to keep quiet in class
- Runs, jumps, and climbs when not permitted
- Cannot play quietly
Remember: Not every child who is overly active can be diagnosed as hyperactive. Children who are simply misbehaving can act within acceptable boundaries when they choose to do so, modifying their behavior for different situations. But truly hyperactive children remain at a high energy level regardless of the situation. They have great difficulty controlling themselves—and some are simply incapable of being still.
A child with impulsivity:
- Acts and speaks without thinking
- May run into the street without looking for traffic first or engage in other dangerous activities without considering potentially harmful consequences
- Has trouble taking turns
- Calls out answers before the question is complete
- Interrupts others
While most children exhibit these kinds of behaviors now and again, they occur so frequently in people with ADHD that they affect social relationships and hamper normal daily life.
Last reviewed on 8/18/08
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