Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Children

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has two flavors: inattentive and hyperactive. Some children present with one more than the other, and some present with both. What was once called “ADD” is now part of the overarching diagnosis that we call “ADHD.” ADHD tends to run in families as there is a genetic component. If you or your partner have signs, symptoms, or an ADHD diagnosis, you may already be on the lookout for signs and symptoms in your child. 

ADHD in children often looks different than it does in adults. For children, it is much more commonly recognized when they exhibit hyperactive and impulsive behaviors (such as blurting out in class or playing recklessly). Children with predominantly hyperactive ADHD tend to fidget, have difficulty sitting still, and need a lot of physical activity as compared to their peers. They may seem reckless as they appear to act without thinking about the consequences. There are many children who are not diagnosed accurately in their youth due to a more inattentive presentation. These kids have difficulty attending to information that is written or spoken. They may seem to have selective hearing or a short attention span. They have trouble completing multi-step tasks such as chores or homework assignments. More often than their peers, they lose belongings and forget to turn in work. On tests they may make careless mistakes which appear as if they are rushing through the work. Oftentimes their symptoms appear more subtle than hyperactivity or impulsivity. 

It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of ADHD in order to detect it early in childhood. If you notice any of the signs described here, you can make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to evaluate further. Typically, a pediatrician can help to sift through which symptoms may be associated with ADHD or something else. For a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, you can visit Austin Anxiety and OCD Specialists or any licensed professional with a doctoral degree in psychology who offers ADHD evaluations. In some cases, your child’s school may agree to perform an evaluation for ADHD if it impacts the child’s learning. This evaluation is the most trustworthy way to obtain an accurate diagnosis of your child’s attention and executive functioning concerns. 


Home and Family Life Examples:

Children with ADHD often appear to have selective hearing (inattention). This is due to an attention deficit that does not allow information into the child’s awareness. For instance, they may not seem to hear that you are calling them into the dining room for dinner or that you have asked three times for them to complete a chore. In addition, children with predominantly hyperactive symptoms of ADHD may seem to need to say every thought that comes to mind, however random or tangential it may seem to the listener. This is due to an impulse control deficit that does not stop the thought before it comes out verbally. 


Academic Functioning Examples:

At school, a child with ADHD may appear forgetful, off-task, and disruptive. Kids with ADHD often do not perform as well in their non-preferred school subject areas. For instance, a child with ADHD may be interested in science and able to attend and focus on science content. That same child may struggle significantly in social studies. While the child is not actively choosing to perform poorly in social studies, it is typical for children with ADHD to have preferred topics and subjects, and non-preferred. This means that they can more easily attend to topics they prefer, and they struggle to attend and persevere when the subject is not preferred. You may notice that your child performs well in some areas and is lacking in other areas, although their IQ and other standardized test scores show that they are at grade level and capable of doing well. You may notice that your child has difficulty with long-term projects that require pre-planning and sustained attention or that they often forget their school books and jackets in their cubby or locker.

Your child may demonstrate difficulty working hard on schoolwork for more than a few minutes at a time, concentrating or focusing on a task, and practicing being patient when it comes to difficult academic work. They may tend to rush through assignments to feel the relief of finishing something even if it is not done accurately. They may struggle to follow the teacher’s directions in class, to write down assignments in their planner, or to work independently on assignments. Many children with ADHD require additional prompting and reminders to get through their school work and homework assignments. 


Social Life Examples: 

Children with executive functioning difficulties such as those with ADHD may struggle to play cooperatively and appropriately with same-age peers. Particular areas that these children may have more difficulty with are things like expressing their feelings, waiting their turn in line or in a game, asking permission before touching someone or making a decision on their behalf, taking turns, sharing, agreeing with others’ choices in play, being careful and gentle, stopping to show that they care, problem solving a tough social situation, being polite and respectful toward others. All of these are higher level executive functioning skills that require forethought, planning, impulse control, and attention to detail that often children with ADHD have a harder time accessing.

It is important to note that children with ADHD may have significant social difficulty especially as they enter adolescence. These kids tend to have more trouble sustaining reciprocal and appropriate conversations with peers and can come off to other kids as annoying or intrusive due to some of their impulse control concerns (e.g. interrupting, blurting out in class, etc.). As they age and become aware of social “rules,” children with ADHD can feel alienated from their peers. It is crucial to recognize if your child requires social skills support and it is important for the adults in their lives to help foster a healthy self-esteem. For additional information regarding social skills for children with ADHD.


Source: Webster-Stratton, C. (2001). The incredible years: Parents, teachers, and children training series. Residential treatment for children & youth, 18(3), 31-45.

By: Jordan Levine, PsyD, Supervised by Misti Nicholson, PsyD

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