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ADHD is a problem with paying attention and/or being hyperactive and acting without thinking first (impulsivity). Most children have trouble sitting still. Many kids don’t finish their schoolwork. Few children sit through meals without tapping, kicking, or drumming. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for the child’s age and development. ADHD behavior doesn’t happen only in one place, like at school. It may happen every day in the classroom, on the playground, and at home. ADHD can lead to problems with learning, friendships, participation in extracurricular activities and family life. Parents of children with ADHD are often worn out and frustrated.


It is normal for all children to have problems paying attention, being hyper or acting without thinking sometimes. But for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often and in multiple different settings. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must have more symptoms than other children their age for 6 or more months.

Children who have problems paying attention may:

  • Have trouble focusing to complete a task or become bored with a task after a few minutes. Having a long attention span for video games does not mean there is no problem with focus. Video games are highly stimulating and often seem like the only thing that someone with ADHD can focus on
  • Be easily distracted by anything in the environment or by their own thoughts
  • Daydream, miss details, forget things, become easily confused, move slowly
  • Have trouble following instructions, especially when given multiple steps at once.
  • Have trouble with organization, often losing things (pencils, toys, homework, sports equipment) needed to complete tasks or activities, have a very messy room, backpack, desk/locker

Children who are hyperactive may:

  • Be unable to sit without fidgeting and squirming in school and home, cannot sit through a meal or to listen to someone read
  • Talk nonstop
  • Be constantly moving, dash around, touching or playing with everything in sight
  • Have trouble stopping their movements, trouble knowing when things have gone too far

Children who are impulsive will act without thinking first and may:

  • Be very impatient, have trouble waiting for what they want or waiting their turn in games
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, call out in class, interrupt others when they are talking
  • Show their emotions without restraint, be very quick to get angry or cry
  • Act without regard for consequences. Children with ADHD may know the rules, but they are not always able to follow them for the reason that they are not thinking of the rules before they act.

There are three different presentations of ADHD.

  1. ADHD—Inattentive Presentation: Children who have trouble paying attention, but are not very hyper and don’t have problems with impulsivity. This used to be called “ADD”
  2. ADHD—Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation: Children who are very hyperactive and have problems acting without thinking first, but have few problems paying attention
  3. ADHD—Combined Presentation: Children who have problems paying attention, being hyperactive, and being impulsive



Symptoms of ADHD can be seen with other diagnoses such as anxiety, learning problems, depression, trauma, autism, hearing loss, sleep disorder or another medical condition or mental health disorder.


Deciding if a child has ADHD is based on how they act. There are no tests for ADHD.  Children should be evaluated for ADHD if a parent or teacher thinks the child has a problem. You pediatrician can make this diagnosis and will usually ask for teachers and other adults who see your child in different settings to complete behavior rating scales


Many people think of ADHD as a childhood problem. However, ADHD can continue through the teen years and into adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD do change over time.

  • Hyperactivity is often seen in very young children. The hyperactive symptoms often decrease over time with or without treatment.
  • Impulsivity can also get better over time, but it is a common reason why children and adolescents can get in trouble
  • Trouble paying attention may not get noticed until demands at school increase. These problems often continue in the teen and adult years. Using routines, study skills, and coping strategies can help people with these problems