Checklist of ADHD Symptoms in Children

Diagnosis is made based on types, impact, and duration of problematic behavior

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that people discuss a lot these days, often ascribing the term casually to persons who seem unusually frenetic, "flaky," or scattered.

But, as a medical condition, it is not so easily ascribed. Parents will often struggle to distinguish between what might be considered "normal" rambunctiousness and inattention and the genuine inability to sit still and focus. Even untrained physicians can have difficulty with this 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, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Distinguishing Between the Types of ADHD

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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 defined as excessive restlessness, rashness, and fidgetiness without the characteristic lack of focus.
  • Combined type ADHD which has characteristics of both.

Checklist of Inattention Symptoms

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According to the DSM-5, inattention can be diagnosed if there are six or more characteristic symptoms in children up to the age of 16 or five or more symptoms for adolescents 17 and older, as follows:

  • 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 for Hyperactivity Symptoms

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According to the DSM-5, hyperactivity and impulsivity can be diagnosed if there are six or more symptoms in children up to the age of 16 or five or more symptoms for adolescents 17 and older, as follows:

  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
  • Often fidgets with the hands or feet or squirms whenever seated
  • Often leaves his or her seat despite being told 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 his or her turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on other's conversations or activities

Completing the Diagnosis

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In order for ADHD to be definitely definitively diagnosis, 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 any other mental condition (such as a mood disorder) or occur as part of a schizophrenic or psychotic episode.
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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. September 2019.

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