Checklist of ADHD Symptoms in Kids

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects around 9.4% of children under the age of 18. ADHD symptoms in kids can include and inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

The condition is not always easy to diagnose, however, as many of the symptoms are commonly mistaken for "normal" childhood rambunctiousness. Even physicians can have difficulty with diagnosis given that there is no single test that can diagnose ADHD or similar behavioral or learning disorders.

Ultimately, to make the distinction, pediatricians will run through a checklist of characteristic symptoms to determine whether the child meets the criteria for ADHD as outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Distinguishing Between the Types of ADHD

ADHD symptoms are typically grouped into two major categories: inattention (the inability to stay focused) and hyperactivity-impulsivity (impulsive behaviors that are excessive and disruptive).

The determination of ADHD is largely based on whether the behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate for the child's developmental age.

The range of symptoms can vary from child to child and lead to a variety of different diagnoses broadly classified as follows:

  • Predominantly inattentive type ADHD describes a child who has trouble paying attention but isn't hyperactive or impulsive.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD is defined as excessive restlessness, rashness, and fidgetiness without the characteristic lack of focus.
  • Combined type ADHD has characteristics of both.

Checklist of Inattention Symptoms

According to the DSM-5, inattention can be diagnosed in children under age 16 if they exhibit six or more of the following symptoms. A diagnosis only requires five or more symptoms for adolescents 17 and older.

  • Often fails to pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions or fails to finish schoolwork or chores
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time
  • Often loses things needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities

Checklist of Hyperactivity Symptoms

Similarly, hyperactivity and impulsivity can be diagnosed in children up to the age of 16 if they exhibit six or more of the following symptoms (or just five or more symptoms for adolescents 17 and older).

  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
  • Often fidgets with the hands or feet or squirms whenever seated
  • Often leaves their seat despite being told to sit still
  • Often runs or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly
  • Is often “on the go" as if unnaturally driven
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often has trouble waiting for their turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on other's conversations or activities

Defining ADHD Combined Type

The combined type of ADHD is a presentation characterized by symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

Children with combined type ADHD exhibit symptoms of inattention such as struggling to concentrate on their work, difficulty following instructions, appearing distracted, forgetfulness, and misplacing items.

They also exhibit hyperactive and impulsive symptoms such as being unable to sit still, restlessness, talkativeness, high energy levels, and interrupting others.

ADHD Symptoms in Girls and Boys

Research suggests that ADHD often presents differently in girls and boys. While boys are more likely to have hyperactive/impulsive or combined type presentations, girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD. 

Boys are more likely to exhibit externalizing symptoms associated with ADHD such as acting out and being aggressive. Because these symptoms tend to be more disruptive, boys tend to be diagnosed with the condition more frequently than girls. Symptoms such as shyness and daydreaming are often seen as personality characteristics in girls rather than symptoms, which is why they are often missed.

Symptoms of ADHD in girls may include seeming withdrawn, disorganized, unmotivated, shy, and easily upset. Because the condition is often missed, girls are less likely to get help and may struggle with issues such as poor self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Getting a Diagnosis

In order for ADHD to be definitively diagnosed, the symptoms must meet four key criteria outlined in the DSM-5:

  1. The inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms must have been present before the age of 12.
  2. The symptoms must be present in two or more settings, such as at home, with friends, or in school.
  3. The symptoms must interfere with or reduce the quality of the child's ability to function at school, in social situations, or when performing normal everyday tasks
  4. The symptoms cannot be explained by any other mental condition (such as a mood disorder) or occur as part of a schizophrenic or psychotic episode.

Additional Help

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you should work with their doctor to determine a treatment plan that is right for their needs. Your child's treatment may include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. There are also other strategies that can be helpful including behavioral approaches, parent training, and social skills training.

You may also find it beneficial to join a support group for parents of children with ADHD. It is also important to help your child learn more about their diagnosis and treatment plan. Working with your child's doctor or therapist, having conversations with your child, and looking for positive role models can be helpful. Your child may find it helpful to know that there are a number of famous people with ADHD including celebrities and athletes.

Taking an online quiz may help you better understand some of the symptoms of ADHD in children, but you should always talk to a healthcare professional for further evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How are ADHD symptoms in adults different from ADHD symptoms in kids?

    ADHD often first appears in childhood and may persist into adulthood, although research suggests that only 17% of kids with ADHD still had the disorder as adults. Symptoms may also be different in adulthood. Hyperactivity is more common in children, for example, but more likely to present as restlessness in adulthood.

  • How is ADHD combined type diagnosed?

    In order to be diagnosed with the combined type presentation of ADHD, children are first evaluated by a healthcare professional. In order to be diagnosed, children must exhibit six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity. These symptoms must be present for at least six months and must not be caused by another condition.

  • Are symptoms of ADHD different in boys and girls?

    Boys who have ADHD are more likely to have hyperactive and impulsive symptoms such as constantly moving, interrupting others, and engaging in physical actions at inappropriate times. Girls who had ADHD are more likely to experience inattentive symptoms such as not paying attention, not listening, being easily distracted, and losing focus.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data and statistics about ADHD.

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Washington, DC. 2013

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC). Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD.

  5. Quinn PO, Madhoo M. A review of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in women and girls: Uncovering this hidden diagnosisPrim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2014;16(3). doi:10.4088/PCC.13r01596

  6. Rucklidge JJ. Gender differences in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorderPsychiatr Clin North Am. 2010;33(2):357-73. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2010.01.006

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Are adult ADHD and childhood ADHD different conditions?.

  8. Leahy LG. Diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in children vs adults: What nurses should know. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 2018;32(6):890-895. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2018.06.013

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.