Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Chances are that you know at least one kid (or adult) who has been diagnosed with ADHD. While you are probably familiar with the term, and may have some idea of what it looks like, you may be wondering just exactly how ADHD affects children. Perhaps you’re even wondering if your own child may have ADHD.
While no two children are exactly the same, there are some common characteristics shared by most children with ADHD. The following is a list of what parents should look for before seeking a diagnosis. This list is not exhaustive, and if you have concerns, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician right away.
- Your child seems to ignore you and others when he is spoken to directly.
Is it difficult to catch your child’s attention when you are speaking to him? Do you sometimes feel like you’re talking to yourself, or having to repeat yourself in order to be heard?
Sometimes this can be a symptom of hearing loss, so it’s important to have your child’s hearing checked if this is a continual problem. But if his hearing is fine and he’s still consistently not responding when spoken to, it could be a sign of ADHD.
- She is often forgetful in daily activities.
Does it seem as though your child is constantly forgetting what she is supposed to be doing, or having trouble remembering the names of friends? Children who have ADHD often have difficulty remembering small things because their minds are on overdrive. While her new friend was telling her his name, she was thinking about a million different things, so the information didn’t “stick.”
Forgetting things once in a while doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, but if she’s forgetting things a lot, it could be a symptom of ADHD.
- He is easily and frequently distracted.
Do you find him with one sock on, still wearing his pajama pants with his school shirt? Does he spend more time playing with the running water than he does actually brushing his teeth?
While all children can be distractible, being frequently distracted can be one of the early signs of ADHD.
- She doesn’t like to play quietly.
She enjoys action movies and cartoons. She loves to run and jump and sing. But when it comes time to read a book or play a quiet game, she quickly gets bored and frustrated.
Children with ADHD need a lot of stimulation to hold their interest, and quiet activities don’t always do the trick.
- He makes careless mistakes.
You know he knows how to do this math homework. So why did he get half of the problems wrong?
If careless mistakes are a consistent problem for your child, especially when you know he knows the answers, ADHD could be the cause. When a task is too easy to keep his attention, he’s likely to rush through it just to get it finished, but he makes mistakes because he isn’t paying close attention.
- She daydreams all the time.
The family is talking about what they’re going to do on their vacation next week, and suddenly you notice that she’s been staring off into space for several minutes. You catch her attention, and she has no idea what’s going on around her.
Frequent, excessive daydreaming can be a sign that your child has ADHD.
- He blurts out answers to questions without waiting to be called on — sometimes before the question is completed.
His teacher emails you telling you that he’s a great kid, but he keeps disrupting class by blurting out all the answers, and so she keeps having to restate the question because he didn’t wait for the whole thing.
Impulse control can be challenging for children with ADHD. They know the rules and want to follow them, but the words just seem to spill out on their own. Children with ADHD also frequently interrupt others, due to their lack of impulse control.
- She talks non-stop.
Does it seem as though she doesn’t understand how conversations work? Maybe she talks “at” you, rather than talking “with” you. Do you feel as though you just can’t get a word in edge-wise as she moves quickly from one topic to another and back again?
Children with ADHD have so many thoughts coming at them so quickly that they often can’t filter them. It may seem as though they don’t have an internal monologue, so they seem to say every single thought that comes into their brain, even when it isn’t appropriate or relevant to the conversation. And if they get going on a topic that’s really interesting to them, it may be hard to get them to stop talking about it.
- He hates doing anything that he thinks will take a long time.
You ask him to clean his room, and he shuts down. His teacher assigns a book report, and he procrastinates until the last minute.
If a task is going to take a long time and requires consistent mental focus, a child with ADHD is likely to avoid it or get overwhelmed just thinking about it. Sometimes a task can be overwhelming if your child even thinks it might take a long time, and getting him to sit down to actually do the task takes longer than the task itself.
- She can’t sit still, often squirming and fidgeting, and even getting out of her seat at inappropriate times.
Going to church or the theater has become stressful for the whole family. She keeps wiggling around and sometimes pops up out of her seat to wander around, no matter how many times you remind her to sit still. You’ve tried everything to get her to be still, but she’s still a wiggly worm.
Most children have trouble sitting still when they’re young, but if your child is getting older and you still can’t get her to stay seated, she may have ADHD.
How to get an ADHD diagnosis
If you recognize some or all of these signs of ADHD in your child, your next step should be to make an appointment with your pediatrician. Appropriate diagnosis is important so that your child can get the help that he or she needs. Your pediatrician may ask for reports from your child’s teachers and caregivers in order to gain an accurate overall picture of your child’s behavior to aid in diagnosis.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, don’t panic. It is not your fault, it is not your child’s fault, and it is treatable. Medication is one possible treatment, and the one we hear about most often, but it is only one of many interventions that can help children with ADHD. Counseling, behavioral therapy, and educational accommodations are all possibilities to help your child learn to cope, and even thrive, with ADHD.