Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect your ability to function in many different aspects of your life, such as at school, at work, and even at home.

Although ADHD can cause visible challenges in everyday life, the symptoms in children and adults vary and are sometimes difficult to recognize.

ADHD is generally diagnosed in children by the time they’re teenagers, with the average age for moderate ADHD diagnosis being 7 years old. Adults with ADHD may have exhibited elaborate symptoms early in life that were overlooked, leading to a late diagnosis later in life.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the common signs and symptoms of ADHD in children and adults, as well as tips for living with ADHD and where to find support.

ADHD primarily causes symptoms related to inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or a combination of both.

With ADHD, someone may experience difficulties paying attention and staying organized, excess fidgeting or restlessness, and trouble with self-control or impulsive behaviors.

In children or toddlers with ADHD, this can lead to symptoms at home, in day care, or at school, such as:

  • trouble focusing on activities and becoming easily distracted
  • low attention span while playing or doing schoolwork
  • fidgeting, squirming, or otherwise having trouble sitting still
  • constantly needing movement or frequently running around
  • engaging in activities loudly or disruptively
  • excess talking and interrupting other people

Symptoms of ADHD in teenagers

As children with ADHD get older, the symptoms they experience may change. In some cases, certain symptoms seen in childhood may become less problematic in adolescence, while new symptoms can arise amidst the changing responsibilities that accompany growing older.

In adolescents and teenagers with ADHD, other symptoms that may appear can include:

  • difficulty focusing on schoolwork or other work
  • frequently making mistakes while doing work
  • trouble finishing tasks, especially schoolwork or chores
  • trouble with task organization and time management
  • frequently forgetting things or losing personal items
  • frequently avoiding mentally taxing tasks
  • experiencing increased frustration and emotional sensitivity
  • trouble navigating social and familial relationships
  • increased conflict with parents due to ADHD symptoms affecting the home life

It’s important to understand that while these symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can sometimes cause adolescents and teenagers with this condition to appear “immature,” they are simply a part of ADHD and have nothing to do with a child’s maturity level.

Although most people with ADHD receive a diagnosis during childhood, sometimes the signs and symptoms of this condition are overlooked or misinterpreted.

But as long as the symptoms of ADHD have been present for that individual before 12 years of age, they can still receive a diagnosis in adulthood.

In adults, the symptoms of ADHD can appear different than those in adolescence or childhood due to the different responsibilities someone may have in adulthood. According to the literature, adults tend to experience:

  • difficulties at college or work
  • trouble passing classes or completing work
  • issues with self-esteem and overall mental well-being
  • substance misuse issues, especially with alcohol
  • relationship challenges with partners, family, or co-workers
  • frequent accidents or injuries

While ADHD affects people of all ages and genders, research suggests that ADHD is roughly four times as prevalent in males as it is in females.

The differences in ADHD between sex and genders are not just refined to the prevalence. In fact, ADHD can present differently in women than in men, which can further contribute to the reduced rate of diagnosis in women and girls.

A recent article published in BMC Psychiatry reviewed the research on different symptoms, co-occurring conditions, and the level of functioning in females who have ADHD.

According to the research, females often experience a mix of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, many of which are less severe than their male counterparts, especially in the hyperactive-impulsive category.

Other notable differences in ADHD presentation in women and girls are:

  • more severe difficulties with mood changes and emotional regulation
  • a higher likelihood of severe social problems, especially with bullying
  • an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy due to an increased number of sexual partners
  • more severe challenges in the areas of academics and self-esteem
  • increased behaviors used to compensate for difficulties at home, school, or work

In addition, ADHD symptoms seem to become more severe with age and during periods of transition, such as puberty and adulthood.

Hormonal changes, such as those that occur with menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, can also cause an increase or worsening of ADHD symptoms.

ADHD in the transgender community

Most of the sources used in this article do not delineate between (and sometimes conflate) sex and gender and can be assumed to have primarily cisgender participants.

While research on ADHD within the transgender community is new, recent surveys state that transgender individuals are “significantly more likely” to report an ADHD diagnosis.

One study in Australia reports that ADHD is four times more common among transgender people than the cisgender population.

At the time of publication, no research could be found that discussed the breakdown of symptoms between trans men, trans women, and gender nonconforming people. Intersex people were also not represented.

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When we look at the presentation of ADHD symptoms, age seems to be the biggest factor for differences in symptoms between individuals. However, ethnic and cultural differences can also play a significant role in the diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

According to research, differences in beliefs, values, and even medical approaches can impact the way that certain behaviors — many of which are the direct result of ADHD — are viewed.

In fact, various studies have shown that children who belong to marginalized ethnic groups are less likely to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment they need for their ADHD.

Other cultural factors that can influence the perception, diagnosis, and treatment of ADHD include:

  • lack of knowledge about the condition
  • fear of the stigma surrounding the condition
  • lack of trust in the medical system
  • reduced ability to recognize when symptoms are problematic
  • differences in the way certain behaviors are viewed between genders
  • language barriers for non-native English speakers
  • no access or limited access to insurance or healthcare services
  • lack of healthcare professionals who are culturally competent

All of these factors can play a role in the way that ADHD symptoms are viewed and can lead to barriers in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in historically marginalized communities.

Without treatment, ADHD can make it difficult to function at your best in your home life, at work or school, or even within your relationships.

If you believe that you, your child, or someone close to you is displaying signs of ADHD, reach out to a doctor or psychologist to ask about a potential diagnosis and start on the path to treatment.

If you’ve received an ADHD diagnosis, you might find the following treatment options can reduce symptoms and help you function better in your everyday life:

  • Therapy. Behavioral therapy is one of the most beneficial types of therapy for ADHD, especially for children and adolescents, because it helps identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are having the most impact.
    • In younger children with ADHD, behavioral therapies that focus on parent training, classroom management, and peer interventions are most effective.
    • In adolescents and adults, a type of behavioral therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be helpful.
  • Medication. Medications can be used alone or in conjunction with behavioral therapy to reduce the symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults.
    • According to research, psychostimulants — which are medications that increase the activity of the central nervous system — are the first-line medication for ADHD.
    • Other nonstimulant medication options for ADHD can include certain high blood pressure medications, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.
  • Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes for ADHD involve strategies that can help you work through the inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that the condition causes. Here are some helpful ways to create structure for yourself if you have ADHD:
    • Fine tune your study skills.
    • Create organizational techniques.
    • Implement time management strategies.

Getting support

It can feel overwhelming to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, but the most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. If you’re looking for more support after your diagnosis, here are a few resources to get you started:

  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). CHADD is an organization that focuses on providing information about ADHD, as well as resources related to support and advocacy for people with ADHD.
  • ADHD Foundation. The ADHD Foundation is a U.K.-based organization that provides education and resources for people living with ADHD, while also providing information for caretakers and professionals who care for individuals with ADHD.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). The ADDA is another organization that provides resources for people with ADHD, including a list of virtual support programs for different groups, such as People of Color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and more.
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ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that causes a person to experience inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or a mixture of both.

In children, ADHD symptoms can sometimes be misunderstood by parents and caretakers, while untreated ADHD in adults can cause symptoms that significantly interfere with daily functioning.

With the right diagnosis and treatment, you can learn to manage the symptoms of ADHD and improve your overall quality of life.