What Do ADHD Symptoms Look Like in Children and Adults?

Understanding ADHD Symptoms in Children and Adults

ADHD SymptomsAccording to the National Institute of Mental Health, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

While the symptoms of ADHD are things that everyone will experience from time to time, it is important to distinguish that in those with ADHD these symptoms are frequent and interfere with a person’s ability to function at home, school, social settings or work.

It’s important to know that the symptoms of ADHD are not the result of not understanding directions or of defiance.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

Being diagnosed with ADHD is an involved process. Reaching a proper diagnosis includes much paperwork and detailed behavioral checklists. Much care has to be taken to get a correct diagnosis. Other mental or mood disorders share symptoms, and it takes time to ensure a person is diagnosed correctly.

For example, school-aged children will have to have paperwork about their behaviors filled out by parents, multiple teachers, and sometimes physicians. Also, hearing and vision screenings will also have to be done.

Also, gender may be taken into consideration when making an ADHD diagnosis. For example, both genders may experience completely different symptoms. For example, females with ADHD may appear less hyperactive and less impulsive, while males with ADHD may act more hyperactive and impulsive.

There are two lists of behaviors: hyperactive/impulsive behaviors and inattentive behaviors. These two lists of behaviors are used to identify ADHD and the ADHD type present, such as inattentive, hyperactive, or combined.


According to the guidelines outlined in the American Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM V), a child must have at least six symptoms of ADHD from either set, or a significant number from both sets, and a person over the age of seventeen must have at least five.

In addition to the criteria in the DSM V, a person must also:

  • Have had several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms present before the age of twelve.
  • Several ADHD symptoms that are present in two or more situations, such as home and school.
  • There must be clear evidence that ADHD symptoms interfere with functioning.
  • A different mental disorder cannot better explain symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following as symptoms of ADHD:

Inattentive symptoms may include:

  • Does not pay attention to details and makes careless mistakes.
  • Problems staying focused on tasks or activities that require sustained mental alertness.
  • Does not appear to listen when spoken to.
  • Does not follow through on instructions and doesn’t completely work.
  • Problems organizing tasks and work. For example, may not manage time well; has messy, disorganized work or misses deadlines.
  • Avoids and dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort.
  • Often loses things necessary to complete tasks in daily life. For example, school papers or homework or school supplies, books, keys, wallet, glasses, handbags or briefcases.
  • Is easily distracted.
  • Forgets daily tasks such as doing chores or running errands. Adults may forget to return phone calls, keep appointments or pay bills.

The hyperactive/impulsive symptoms may include:

  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.
  • Not able to remain seated.
  • Runs or climbs when not appropriate.
  • Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly.
  • Restlessness and always on the go.
  • Talks too much.
  • Blurts out answers to questions before the question is finished or interrupts or finishes other’s sentences.
  • Difficulty in waiting for their turn or waiting in line.
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others, such as cutting into conversations, games or activities, starts using other’s things without permission. Adults may take over what other people are doing.

Next Page: Why it’s important to recognize ADHD symptoms, and what ADHD looks like in children and adults. 

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