ADHD Symptoms in Adults and Children

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD
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The core symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Difficulties with concentration, mental focus, and inhibition of impulses and behaviors are chronic and pervasive and impair an individual's daily functioning across various settings—home, school, or work—as well as in relationships with others. Though it's more common in children, affecting an estimated 8.4 percent, ADHD affects as many as 2.5 percent of adults as well.

Presentations of ADHD

There are three presentations, or subtypes, of ADHD, including:

  • ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation: Symptoms are primarily related to inattention. The individual does not display significant hyperactive/impulsive behaviors. This type tends to be more common in females.
  • ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation: Symptoms are primarily related to hyperactivity and impulsivity. The individual does not display significant attention problems. This type tends to be more common in males.
  • ADHD, combined presentation: The individual displays both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.

Symptoms May Vary

Previously known as ADD, symptoms of ADHD are typically seen early in a child's life, often when he or she enters a school setting. Though plenty of kids outgrow it, ADHD may continue into adolescence and adulthood, particularly the inattentive type. Many adults don't realize they have ADHD because they weren't diagnosed as children. By the time you reach adulthood, you have likely learned ways to cope better with your symptoms and you may even have outgrown some of them, especially hyperactive ones. Because of these factors, your symptoms won't necessarily be as obvious a child's, but if you think back to your childhood, you'll probably recognize yourself since all adults with ADHD had it as children.

Here's a more detailed look at the three hallmark symptoms of ADHD.

Inattention

Children and adults who are inattentive have difficulty staying focused and attending to tasks that they perceive as mundane. Because of this, they may procrastinate doing their homework or work since there is a great deal of mental energy needed to complete it. They are easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds, shift from one activity to another and seem to get bored easily. They may appear forgetful and even spacey or confused as if they're in a fog or living in a different world in their own heads. They may not seem like they're listening when they're being spoken to. Organizing and completing tasks is often extremely difficult, as is sorting out what information is relevant versus what's irrelevant.

If you have inattentive symptoms, you may have great difficulty keeping up with school work or bills, frequently lose things, and live your life in a disorganized way. Following through on promises and commitments may be a struggle and time management is also often an issue. Inattentive behaviors are often overlooked because they're harder to identify and less disruptive than hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, so kids with these symptoms may slip through the cracks. An individual with the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD may even appear sluggish, lethargic, and slow to respond and process information.

Hyperactivity

Hyperactivity is the symptom most people think of when they hear the term "ADHD." Children and adults who are hyperactive have excessively high levels of activity, which may present as physical and/or verbal overactivity. They may appear to be in constant motion and perpetually on the go as if driven by a motor. They have difficulty keeping their bodies still—moving about excessively, squirming, or fidgeting.

People who are hyperactive often feel restless, especially if they're adults or teens. They may talk excessively, interrupt others, and monopolize conversations, not letting others talk. It's not unusual for an individual with hyperactive symptoms to engage in a running commentary on the activities going on around them. Their behaviors tend to be loud and disruptive. This difficulty regulating their own activity level often creates great problems in social, school, and work situations.

Impulsivity

Children and adults who are impulsive have trouble inhibiting their behaviors and responses. They often act and speak before thinking, reacting in a rapid way without considering consequences. They may interrupt others, blurt out responses, and rush through assignments or forms without carefully reading or listening to instructions. Waiting for their turn and being patient is extremely difficult for people who are impulsive. They prefer speed over accuracy and so they often complete tasks quickly but in a careless manner. They go full swing into situations and may even place themselves in potentially risky situations without thought. Their lack of impulse control can not only be dangerous but it can also create stress at school or work and in relationships with others. Delayed gratification or waiting for larger rewards is very hard for an impulsive person.

Comorbid Conditions

As many as one-third of children with ADHD have one or more coexisting, or comorbid, conditions. The most common of these are behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, and learning and language disabilities. Adults with ADHD show an even higher incidence of comorbid disorders. These adults may also suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, or behavioral problems.

Getting Diagnosed

In order to meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD for children, there need to be six or more symptoms that have frequently and significantly impacted their lives in two or more settings (school, social, or home) for at least six months. These symptoms must be more excessive than what would be appropriate for the child's age and developmental level. For anyone who is 17 years old or older, there must be five or more symptoms that have had a frequent and detrimental effect on two or more settings (school, social, home, or work). Symptoms also must have started before you were 12 years old.

If you think you or your child may have ADHD, talk to your doctor. He or she can either diagnose you or recommend a mental health professional who can. Getting treatment like medication, therapy, or a combination of both can help pave the way to more success at work, school, home, and in relationships.

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Article Sources
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: 2013.
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). What Is ADHD? Updated July 2017. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/adhd/what-is-adhd
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Co-occurring Conditions. http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/Data-and-Statistics/Co-occurring-Conditions.aspx