The only person who can tell you for sure whether your child has ADHD is a mental healthcare provider. Though you’ll definitely want to seek a professional’s opinion, there are a few signs to look out for that might hint at the condition.
Here’s what to know about ADHD in children, including the most common signs and symptoms.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is short for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The condition affects millions of children, can be diagnosed at any age, and often continues into adulthood. It’s mainly characterized by difficulty focusing and holding attention, an inability to sit still, and impulsive behaviors.
ADD vs. ADHD
ADD (short for attention deficit disorder) was once used to describe people with attention difficulties who don’t struggle with hyperactivity (an inability to sit still). However, the term is outdated. Today, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) only recognizes ADHD as an official mental health condition.
Signs your child has ADHD
Kids, preteens, and teens with ADHD show various signs of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. A diagnosis of ADHD requires multiple symptoms (depending on age) over a period of time for a diagnosis.
A child with ADHD might:
- Be constantly in motion
- Fidget, squirm, or get out of their seat when asked to sit still
- Be easily distracted
- Be unable to finish tasks, fail to do chores/homework
- Have trouble listening, be forgetful
- Struggle to play quietly
- Talk excessively, interrupt often, or intrude socially
Keep in mind the symptoms can vary from person to person. Also, some of these traits are relatively normal for kids, as their brains are still developing. A diagnosis would take different factors into account, like their age and how chronic the issues are.
How to know if your child’s behavior is normal
Again, it’s normal for children, tweens, and even teens to be inattentive and impulsive — at least sometimes. If your child is showing some signs of ADHD once in a while, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern.
If your child is struggling in many different environments, that can also be a clue that something global needs to be addressed. For example, tired and overstimulated children may be challenging at home after school, but if their teachers report great behavior while at school, that’s reassuring.
In some cases, a lack of attention has more to do with a lack of interest in an activity than a general inability to focus. As for the hyperactivity aspect, well…kids are often hyper and energetic. So you can’t assume every high-energy child has ADHD — that’s why working with a provider is so crucial.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
Like many mental health conditions, there’s no blood test or brain scan that confirms whether a person has ADHD. Instead, a healthcare provider will ask questions about your child’s behaviors, activity levels, school performance, and overall health. Often you’ll need to see a specialized provider or work in a team with a provider and a school counselor/specialist.
You’ll likely be asked to fill out a checklist or questionnaire about things you’ve noticed and how long they’ve been going on. A provider will carefully consider all factors before diagnosing your child with ADHD — or potentially a learning disorder or another mental health condition if they think something else might be going on.
What to do if you think your child might have ADHD
Knowing the signs of ADHD is important, but you won’t know for sure if your child has the condition until you get a diagnosis. The best thing to do is make an appointment with your child’s provider or their school counselor to get the process started.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, there are many treatment paths available — including taking medications and starting therapy — finding the right one may take time.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.” Mayo Clinic. 2019. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.” 2022. Web. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
- Nemours Children’s Health. “ADHD.” 2022. Web. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/adhd.html
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Web. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/adhd