Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show persistent restlessness, impulsiveness and/or inattention. These features are seen in more than one setting - for example, at school and at home. They are also seen in more than one activity - for example, in schoolwork and in relationships. They occur at a level greater than expected for their age and cause significant disruption to the child's daily life.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The definition of ADHD requires that symptoms:
- Start before 12 years of age.
- Occur in two or more settings such as at home and school.
- Have been present for at least six months.
- Interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic or occupational functioning.
- Are not better explained by another mental disorder.
There are three subtypes of ADHD:
- Hyperactive-impulsive subtype. Some features of this type of ADHD are that a child may:
- Fidget a lot.
- Run around in inappropriate situations.
- Have difficulty playing quietly.
- Talk excessively.
- Interrupt others.
- Have trouble waiting their turn in games, in conversations and also in queues.
- Inattention subtype. In this subtype, a child may:
- Have trouble concentrating and paying attention.
- Make careless mistakes and not listen to, or follow through on, instructions.
- Be easily distracted.
- Be forgetful in daily activities and lose essential items such as school books or toys.
- Have trouble organising activities.
- Combined subtype. If a child has this subtype, they have features of both of the other subtypes.
Children with ADHD are also more likely than average to have other problems such as anxiety and depression, conduct disorders and co-ordination difficulties. Some children with ADHD also have reading difficulties and dyslexia.
Note: many children, especially those under the age of 5 years, have problems with attention and always seem restless. This does not necessarily mean that they have ADHD.
The symptoms may change as your child gets older. Symptoms often reduce in severity and cause less disruption over time. However, this is not always the case.
Further reading and references
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management; NICE Clinical Guideline (September 2008)
Management of attention deficit and hyperkinetic disorders in children and young people; Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network - SIGN (October 2009)
Post RE, Kurlansik SL; Diagnosis and management of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2012 May 185(9):890-6.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; NICE CKS, October 2015 (UK access only)
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