ADHD symptoms at different ages

By Julie Rawe

Overview of ADHD symptoms

It’s not always easy to spot ADHD symptoms. That’s partly because everyone acts in ways that can look like ADHD from time to time. But kids and adults with ADHD (also known as ADD) struggle a lot more with these behaviors than other people their age.

Kids and adults with ADHD often have trouble with:

  • Focus
  • Impulse control
  • Managing emotions
  • Memory
  • Starting or finishing tasks

Some people with ADHD are hyperactive. This means they need to move in some way all the time.

ADHD signs can look different at different ages. Explore this list and share your concerns with your doctor. Together you can decide on next steps.

Preschool–grade 2 ADHD symptoms

  • Having trouble following directions, like “put on your backpack”
  • Getting up, fidgeting, or talking during quiet activities, like story time or while watching a TV show
  • Not slowing down enough to do things carefully, like writing a word or pouring cereal into a bowl
  • Grabbing things without permission, like a photo on the teacher’s desk or candy in a store
  • Having trouble remembering things the teacher just taught, like that 2 plus 2 equals 4
  • Getting very upset or angry over minor things, like spilling something or not catching the ball

Grades 3–7 ADHD symptoms

  • Putting off tasks, like writing an essay
  • Rushing through schoolwork 
  • Turning in messy work with careless mistakes
  • Working slowly and not finishing in a reasonable amount of time
  • Clowning around in class and trying to get everyone’s attention
  • Getting restless during field trips if they’re not very interesting
  • Saying or doing things without thinking about the consequences
  • Having trouble following directions with more than one step

Teen and adult ADHD symptoms

  • Having trouble setting priorities and making sure the important stuff gets done
  • Forgetting to write down assignments or keep track of deadlines
  • “Spacing out” and needing to re-read information or ask people to repeat what they’ve said
  • Getting sidetracked from tasks that aren’t really interesting
  • Having a hard time making friends
  • Taking risks without thinking about consequences

How to help

There are many myths about ADHD that can make wondering about ADHD feel scary. Keep in mind that ADHD is very common, and a lot is known about how to help people with ADHD thrive. Here are suggestions on what to do next.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.