Symptoms & Diagnosis

In our increasingly technological world, it is nearly impossible to remain focused amidst the constant distractions of everyday life. We all feel the need to check our email, refresh our news feed, or replay our favorite song, even with an unfinished task beckoning. At what point are these symptoms not merely consequences of our chaotic environment, but rather attributes of a disorder?

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

Two of the most recognizable symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity and lack of impulse control. The symptoms of hyperactivity include:

  • inability to sit still
  • constant fidgeting
  • feelings of restlessness
  • nonstop energy
  • not remaining seated when expected to (e.g., in a waiting room or classroom)
  • excessive talking
  • always being on the go

Children who suffer from ADHD may also act impulsively by:

  • blurting out answers before questions have been asked
  • interrupting or intruding on others’ conversations or games
  • not waiting their turn


A child only displaying symptoms of inattention may be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), a less disruptive form of ADHD. Symptoms of inattention include:

  • difficulty paying attention to details
  • making careless mistakes
  • being easily distracted from work or play
  • inability to listen when spoken to
  • difficulty staying organized
  • inability to follow through on instructions or tasks
  • constantly losing necessary items, such as schoolbooks, pencils, or toys
  • avoiding tasks that require sustained mental engagement
  • forgetting appointments or activities

Recognizing Symptoms in Children

ADHD is often identified when a child begins school and struggles with organized activities, following rules, and playing in a structured environment. Early symptoms tend to appear between the ages of three and six, but can be easily overlooked.

If your child shows signs of ADHD, such as inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity at home or in school, seek medical advice right away so a diagnosis can be reached. Speak with your child’s teachers to determine whether they display any academic, social, or behavioral problems in the classroom. Depression or anxiety can also be signs of ADHD and should be brought to the attention of a physician.

Diagnosing ADHD may be easier in boys than in girls because symptoms manifest more obviously and disruptively in boys. While girls may daydream if they cannot pay attention, boys often play, fiddle, or disrupt activities. Young boys with ADHD

are also more likely to be primarily hyperactive and less compliant with authority figures, so their behavior may be more conspicuous than that of girls with ADHD.

Only a doctor can accurately diagnose ADHD. While it is common for young children to have a short attention span in school, it is important to pay attention to every aspect of their lives. For example, if your child has problems in school, but can focus and play well at home or with friends, they may have a learning disability, not ADHD.  

Symptoms of Adult ADHD

Although most ADHD sufferers are diagnosed before the age of seven, those who are not diagnosed may carry ADHD characteristics into adulthood. Adults must cope with their disorder amidst the pressures and responsibilities of maturity; relationships, employment, and everyday activities may be negatively affected.

Along with symptoms experienced by children, such as procrastination, impulsiveness, boredom, and disorganization, adults can also experience:

  • chronic lateness and forgetfulness
  • anxiety, depression, and mood swings
  • low self-esteem
  • trouble remaining employed
  • difficulty controlling anger
  • substance abuse or addiction
  • relationship conflict

Recognizing Symptoms in Adults

Diagnosing adult ADHD is somewhat more subjective than diagnosing childhood ADHD. Seek medical help if you experience three or more of the following symptoms, or if any symptom becomes a hindrance to your daily life:

  • problems focusing or sustaining attention on specific tasks
  • a history of failed relationships
  • poor social and interpersonal skills
  • a history of changing jobs often
  • leaving projects and tasks uncompleted
  • a poor concept of time (constantly late to events or meetings)
  • constant restlessness or boredom with activities (may include fidgeting and moving around)
  • symptoms of depression
  • acting impulsively or interrupting others without thinking

Stress and Depression

Symptoms of ADHD can also mirror symptoms of stress or depression, so when considering the possibility of ADHD, think about the length and potential cause of your symptoms. If you recently encountered issues at work or in your social life, your symptoms may be a temporary manifestation of a specific stressor. But if these symptoms were present before a stressful period began, they may be signs of ADHD.

Depression is not merely sadness, but a perpetual and inexplicable feeling of helplessness. If you have experienced a tragic event, such as a death in the family, feelings of sadness and helplessness are likely not symptoms of ADHD. But if you have a lingering feeling of sadness, you should talk to a doctor about ADHD and other serious mental disorders.

When to Get Help

If you suspect that you or your child suffers from ADHD, it is important to seek help early. Because ADHD symptoms may mask another medical condition, seeing a physician is crucial. A physician can order tests to rule out an alternative diagnosis, and if ADHD is identified, prescribe appropriate medication and refer you to a psychiatrist who can help you cope with your disorder.

The symptoms of ADHD can be detrimental to your job, relationships, and social life; the sooner you recognize your disorder, the sooner you can begin to manage it. ADHD requires medication, therapy, and monitored guidance. There are steps you can take individually to improve your symptoms, but you must also work with a professional to see consistent results. 

If you believe you may suffer from ADHD, make an appointment to see your doctor. Be sure to come prepared with a list of symptoms and questions and an open mind. If you or your child has ADHD, observe and track the symptoms so you can give your doctor as much information as possible.