A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

ADHD: Recognize common signs in children

Boy and girl doing school work in classroomWhy does my child squirm at the dinner table, rush through homework and interrupt people when they talk?

These behaviors may be signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects about 5 percent of kids.

“Pediatricians are always screening for behavior problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD,” said Dr. Mary Hennessy, a Marshfield Clinic child and adolescent psychiatrist. “That’s why well-child checks are important.”

Symptoms usually are seen from age 5 to 7 when kids start spending more time in school with others their age. Teachers or childcare providers may be the first to recognize symptoms.

Signs of ADHD

Kids who have ADHD will show several inattentive symptoms, hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, or both, Hennessy said.

Kids must show symptoms before age 12 to be diagnosed with ADHD.

This chart shows three major types of ADHD and the symptoms of each type.

Understanding ADHD in Children
Type of ADHD
Symptoms
Duration of symptoms
Inattentive
  • Distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Rushes through things
  • Doesn't pay attention to details
  • Doesn't finish work
  • Can be long-term and may require medication for the entire time the child is in school.
Hyperactive/ impulsive
  • Restless
  • Can't sit still
  • Talks loudly or excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Interrupts others
  • Skips other kids in line or can't wait their turn
  • Hyperactive symptoms usually start to drop off around age 10.
  • Impulsive symptoms usually start to drop off around age 14.
Combined (most common)
  • Shows symptoms of inattentive ADHD and symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD
  • Varies depending on the type of ADHD symptoms. See above durations.

How is ADHD treated?

For the three types of ADHD, treatment is similar, Hennessy said.

Treatment may involve behavior therapy, school-based interventions and medicine to address inattention, disorganization and hyperactive/impulsive behavior.

“Parents can practice positive parenting and good management techniques,” she said. “That can be hard when society pressures kids to be quiet and inactive.”

Teaching routines, organizational skills and giving attention to good behavior and not reacting every time a child misbehaves may help.

Parents may notice their child’s ADHD symptoms change as the child ages.

“Children have developing brains, so symptoms start to drop out as they get older,” Hennessy said.

Is it ADHD or something more?

Kids who appear to have ADHD may have other conditions causing their problems at school and at home, Hennessy said.

Learning disabilities, mood disorders, and oppositional defiant disorder can cause kids to act frustrated, irritable and defiant to parents and teachers.

Your child may have these conditions in addition to, or instead of, ADHD.

Doctors at Marshfield Clinic’s ADHD clinic test for several different conditions and gather information from home and school before making a diagnosis.

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