ADHD Symptoms in Kids: What to Watch For
We always want to see our children flourish and grow, but sometimes we may find ourselves questioning whether what they are struggling with is normal, developmentally appropriate behavior, or whether they are symptoms of a behavioral disorder, such as ADHD. Getting to know more about ADHD symptoms in kids might help you to put your mind at ease or help you decide whether you need to consider further intervention to help your child.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the name given to a neurodevelopmental condition comprising of two categories of behavioral problems, namely inattentiveness, and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. Most people living with ADHD have symptoms that fall into both categories, though some fit mostly into one category or the other.
For example, some may not struggle as much with impulsiveness and hyperactivity and others may not struggle with inattentiveness. There are three types of ADHD, depending on which symptoms are more prominent.
Inattentive: Where a person has symptoms of inattention, but not of hyperactivity or impulsivity.
Hyperactive/impulsive: Where a person is hyperactive and impulsive but doesn’t struggle with inattentiveness.
Combined: Where a person has symptoms from both categories.
One can usually notice ADHD symptoms in kids before the age of six, and they will most likely be evident in more than one environment, for example, both at home and at school. ADHD may affect a child’s success at school, leading to underachievement as they struggle to focus on their schoolwork, and relationships, where they may struggle with social interactions with other children and adults. It may also lead to discipline problems.
There are a variety of ADHD symptoms in kids, and some may be hard to recognize. In addition, many children may experience some of the individual symptoms, so to make an accurate diagnosis, your child’s doctor would need to evaluate your child.
The Main Signs of Inattentiveness
Some of the symptoms may be more specifically related to their struggle with inattentiveness. These behaviors result from a lack of awareness about what is going on around them or an inability to focus. For example, their behavior may be self-focused because of their inability to recognize other people’s needs and desires, leading to more disruptive behaviors like interrupting and difficulty waiting their turn.
A child with ADHD may struggle with a short attention span and be easily distracted, resulting in careless mistakes in their schoolwork and trouble following instructions that require creating or following a plan. This doesn’t mean that the child is lazy or lacking intelligence, but that they struggle with organizational skills, like keeping track of tasks and activities.
This may cause trouble at school as they may find it hard to prioritize school projects, homework, and other assignments. Another result of being easily distracted may be that your child is constantly changing their activity or tasks or leaves things unfinished, whether it is unfinished chores or activities of their own choosing.
This is because while they may have a wide range of interests, they are easily distracted and may leave one task incomplete as they move on to the latest thing to capture their attention.
Lack of focus, or trouble paying attention, is another common symptom of ADHD. Even when a child is spoken to directly, they may struggle to pay attention and may be unable to repeat back what they have just heard. This may result in the appearance of being unable to listen or to carry out instructions.
A lack of focus may also result in forgetfulness concerning their homework, or even resulting in frequently losing things as they forget where they left them or forget to put things away. Their struggle to concentrate on tasks may result in them deliberately avoiding tasks that need extended mental effort, like paying attention in class or doing homework.
They may have a particularly challenging time sticking to tasks they find tedious or time-consuming. Not all ADHD kids are rambunctious and loud; some may be quieter and less involved than other kids, getting distracted by daydreaming and ignoring what is going on around them.
The Main Signs of Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness
The symptoms more related to hyperactivity and impulsiveness may be related to inattentiveness, but mostly concern the child’s behaviors as opposed to their thinking process. Children with ADHD are often unable to sit still and struggle particularly in quiet or calm settings, like a classroom.
They may resolve this struggle by constantly fidgeting and squirming in their chair, or by trying to get up and run around. In addition to excessive physical movement, they may end up also talking too much and have trouble playing quietly or calmly.
Because they struggle with awareness of what is going on around them, they may interrupt people while they are talking or butt into conversations or games that they were not a part of. They may also have trouble waiting their turn, whether during classroom activities or when playing games with other children.
Children struggling with ADHD quite often act without thinking and may have little or no sense of danger. A child with ADHD may also have trouble keeping their emotions in check, experiencing outbursts of anger at inappropriate times, and younger children may exhibit temper tantrums.
A child that is struggling with ADHD will show signs in more than one setting. For example, they will consistently show symptoms both at school and at home. As children get older, those struggling with ADHD will often have less self-control than their peers and may appear immature compared to other children their age.
Adolescents may struggle to focus on their schoolwork or assignments, have difficulties with time management, reading social cues, compromising with their peers, and helping with chores at home, as well as with maintaining personal hygiene.
Related Conditions in Children with ADHD
Although it isn’t always the case, some children may have signs of other conditions alongside ADHD. These may include anxiety disorders, where a child struggles with excessive worry and nervousness, epilepsy, depression, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) which manifests as negative and disruptive behavior especially towards those in authority, and conduct disorder, which includes antisocial behavior like stealing, fighting, vandalism, and harming people or animals.
People struggling with ADHD may also concurrently struggle with sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep or irregular sleep patterns. They may also be on the autism spectrum (ASD) which can affect their social interactions, communication skills, interests, and behavior, or they could struggle with Tourette’s syndrome, a nervous system condition that is characterized by making involuntary noises and movements, or tics. They may experience learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.
Every child will exhibit some of these behaviors at some point in their early years, whether daydreaming, fidgeting, or persistently interrupting. And depending on their stage of development it may be entirely normal to miss social cues or be more focused on the self, to forget things, or to struggle with sitting still.
So, it may take some time to establish whether these are normal childhood behaviors or if your child is indeed struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. You should only start thinking about the next steps if your child is regularly displaying signs of ADHD, or if their behavior is starting to impact their success in school or leading to negative interactions with peers.
At that point, it would be a good idea to meet with your doctor or a psychologist, who can determine the best course of action moving forward.
The good news is that ADHD is treatable, and many people are living successful and fruitful lives with ADHD. Treatments range from prescription medication to behavioral intervention.
In many cases, medication alone is an effective treatment, however, psychotherapeutic interventions are also incredibly helpful alongside medication. Some thrive by learning ways to work around their ADHD without any medication, and a psychotherapist could help in establishing these habits.
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