4 Key Symptoms of ADHD

By Amanda Morin

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Is your child easily distracted? Impulsive? Daydreamy? Hyperactive? If your child acts some of these ways most of the time, what you’re seeing may be signs of ADHD, a medical condition that can be helped through a variety of strategies.

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Young child grabs grandfather’s face for attention
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ADHD Symptom: Impulsivity

Kids with poor impulse control can be impatient and insistent. They often interrupt people and have trouble censoring their words and emotions. They might engage in risky behavior because they don’t plan ahead or consider the consequences of their actions. If your child has this symptom, her brain might not be effectively using the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, which stimulates the portion of the brain responsible for maintaining focus and regulating behavior.

Two exuberant boys running down school steps
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ADHD Symptom: Overactivity

This symptom is often referred to as hyperactivity, but that’s not all it is. Kids often seem “hyper” because they can’t help moving from place to place quickly. They’re overactive in smaller ways as well. They may touch and fiddle with items, squirm in their seat or wander off when they’re expected to remain seated. It’s not deliberate. ADHD can cause trouble with the “braking signal” in the area of the brain responsible for controlling motor movement.

Boy checking his cell phone in class
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ADHD Symptom: Inattention

Inattention is a hallmark sign of ADHD. Kids with this issue often can’t focus their attention on something, even when they’re trying. They might have trouble following directions because they miss key pieces of information. They might also get tired easily from trying so hard to pay attention, lose their train of thought and make mistakes. They may seem “spacey,” forgetful or scattered. Sometimes kids who show this symptom are mistaken for just being bored.

Niña viendo por la ventana perdida en sus pensamientos
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ADHD Symptom: Distractibility

Distractibility is sometimes confused with inattention. But there’s a difference between not being focused on a task (inattention) and getting distracted by information your brain struggles to filter out (distractibility). With ADHD, anything kids see, hear or feel—such as an itch—could distract them. This can make them lose focus on the conversation they’re having or the task they’re supposed to be completing.

Student showing another student how to access charts and lists on the bulletin board
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What You Can Do

If your child has ADHD, it’s important to understand that these behaviors aren’t “on purpose” but rather the result of a medical condition. There are lots of ways to help kids with ADHD. Explore Parenting Coach for tips to help with ADHD-related behaviors. Classroom accommodations, certain therapies and medication could also help.

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5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child’s Focus

Getting a child with ADHD to concentrate can be a real challenge. Here are some easy and fun strategies to help your child improve his ability to focus.

5 Common Myths About ADHD

There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD (also known as ADD). This can make it hard to know what’s true and how best to support your child. Here we separate myth from fact to help you feel more confident in your ADHD knowledge.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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