How to Recognize ADHD in Children

Six Methods:Recognizing Symptoms of ADHDTracking Your Child’s Responses to Everyday LifeGetting Diagnosed by a ProfessionalDiagnosing Other DisordersFinding SupportLearning About ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be recognized in children typically by the age of seven.[1] Boys are four times more likely to suffer from ADHD than girls.[2] This disorder can be difficult to diagnose, however, because many of its symptoms are typical characteristics of the average child. But if your child has exhibited certain symptoms related to focus, hyperactivity or impulsivity over six months in various settings, you should take him to a mental health professional for an official ADHD diagnosis.

Method 1
Recognizing Symptoms of ADHD

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 1
    Determine if your child has inattentive symptoms of ADHD. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, children aged 16 and under must exhibit at least six symptoms in more than one setting, for at least six months. Symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level and be seen as interrupting normal functioning in social or school settings. Symptoms for ADHD (inattentive presentation) include: [3]
    • Makes careless mistakes, is inattentive to detail
    • Has trouble paying attention (tasks, playing)
    • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention when someone is talking to him
    • Doesn’t follow through (homework, chores); easily sidetracked
    • Is organizationally challenged
    • Avoids tasks requiring sustained focus (like schoolwork)
    • Can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, etc.
    • Is easily distracted
    • Is forgetful
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 2
    Determine if your child has hyperactive/impulsive symptoms of ADHD. Some symptoms must be at the level of “disruptive” for them to count in a diagnosis. Track if your child has at least six symptoms in more than one setting, for at least six months: [4]
    • Fidgety, squirmy; taps hands or feet
    • Feels restless, running or climbing inappropriately
    • Struggles to play quietly/do quiet activities
    • “On the go” as if “driven by a motor”
    • Excessive talking
    • Blurts out even before questions are asked
    • Struggles to wait for his turn
    • Interrupts others, inserts self into others’ discussions/games
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 3
    Assess if your child has Combined ADHD. If your child has at least six inattentive and/or hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, he or she may have Combined presentation of ADHD. [5]
  4. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 4
    Get a diagnosis from a mental health professional. As you determine your child’s level of ADHD, seek the guidance of a mental health professional to make an official diagnosis.
    • This person will also be able to determine whether your child’s symptoms can be better explained by or attributable to another psychiatric disorder.
  5. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 5
    Ask your child’s mental health professional about other disorders. As if having an ADHD diagnosis isn’t challenging enough, one out of every five with ADHD is diagnosed with another serious disorder (depression and bipolar disorder are common partners). One-third of children with ADHD also have a behavioral disorder such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiance disorder. [6] ADHD tends to pair up with learning disabilities and anxiety, too.[7]

Method 2
Tracking Your Child’s Responses to Everyday Life

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 6
    Track your child’s activities and reactions over two weeks. If you suspect that your child may have ADHD, pay attention to his emotions and reactions for a couple of weeks. Write down what he does and how he reacts. Pay attention especially to his impulses and feelings of hyperactivity, as well as his ability to pay attention and focus.
    • Ask your child’s teacher and other close adults to pay close attention to your child’s reactions and activities as well. If a child has ADHD, he is likely to exhibit symptoms in multiple environments (such as at school, on the playground, at the grocery store, and/or at home).
    • Impulse control: Having ADHD may mean that your child has a hard time controlling impulses. He may do things without really thinking them through, or he can be impatient and have trouble waiting his turn. He may find himself dominating conversations or activities, answering people and saying things before they have finished what they are saying, or saying things and frequently regretting them later.
    • Hyperactivity: With ADHD, your child may feel restless all the time, need to always fidget and fiddle, and talk excessively. He may be told often that he speaks too loudly. He might sleep a lot less than most kids or have trouble falling asleep. He might have trouble sitting still or staying seated too long.
    • Focus and concentration: Your child may not exhibit hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. Instead, he may make careless mistakes, fail to follow instructions, get bored quickly, or seem like he’s not listening when you’re talking to him.[8]
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 7
    Observe how your child responds to his environment. A crowded venue with music and many conversations happening simultaneously, a potpourri of aromas ranging from air fresheners, flowers, and food to perfumes and colognes, and perhaps a variety of lighting effects such as television screens or computer displays may overwhelm an individual with ADHD. [9]
    • This type of environment can make the individual virtually unable to participate in a simple conversation, let alone excel at social graces.
    • Individuals with ADHD often experience anxiety over unfamiliar situations. These feelings can lead to social isolation.
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 8
    Look for developmentally appropriate behavior. While children are often hyperactive, impulsive or inattentive, there are still certain benchmarks that you can observe to notice whether your child exhibits symptoms of ADHD. As you observe your child in various settings, look for developmentally appropriate behavior. Is he conducting himself in similar ways to his peers?[10]
    • For example, does your child keep horsing around after other kids have calmed down? Or, is he noisier or louder than other kids?[11]
  4. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 9
    Track patterns of behavior in various situations. A child with ADHD will have similar patterns of behavior in different places and with different people. For example, he will act out at school, at home, and at playdates. As you observe your child over a couple of weeks, notice how he responds when he’s around other children, or when he is having quiet time at home. Look for similar behaviors to see if there are patterns.[12]
  5. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 10
    Reflect on your child’s self-esteem. One of the biggest issues for individuals with ADHD is low self-esteem. For example, your child might lack self-confidence due to others outperforming him at school.[13]
    • Good ways to boost your child's self-esteem through your own interactions include expressing unconditional love and acceptance for him, teaching him problem-solving skills, listening carefully to his thoughts and feelings, and praising efforts he makes.[14]
    • You can also ask your child's teachers to observe whether your child appears to demonstrate low self-esteem at school.

Method 3
Getting Diagnosed by a Professional

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 11
    Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. A mental health professional trained in ADHD issues is the best person to make a diagnosis for your child. This person will talk with your child in order to observe his behaviors and reactions.[15]
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 12
    Assemble health records. Bring your child’s health records to the appointment, and gather information about your family medical history as well.
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 13
    Gather report cards and school records. Your child’s ADHD has likely been impacting him in school settings. He may have gotten poor grades or he may frequently get in trouble in school. Bring report cards and school records to the appointment.
  4. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 14
    Participate in an interview with the therapist. The therapist will also interview you as parent to get a detailed idea of your child’s past and current life experiences and challenges. Be honest and thorough with your answers. You want to give the therapist enough information so that he or she can give an accurate diagnosis for your child.

Method 4
Diagnosing Other Disorders

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 15
    Talk with your child’s pediatrician. It is very common for individuals with ADHD to suffer from other disorders as well. [16] It’s important to talk with your pediatrician to diagnose any other conditions that afflict your child. Getting the most accurate diagnosis for your child will help him be successful in life.
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 16
    Test your child for learning disabilities. Your child may have difficulty understanding what other people are saying to him, and may have a hard time expressing himself. [17]. Talk with your pediatrician
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 17
    Look into behavioral and psychological disorders. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or mental health professional to discuss other disorders that cause behavior similar to ADHD behavior.[18] Some of these disorders include: [19]
    • Bipolar disorder: Children with this condition have extreme mood swings. They may have an extremely elevated mood one moment, and a very dark mood the next.
    • Anxiety and depression. Depression can cause children to become inattentive, lack an attention space, and feel nervous.
    • Conduct disorder: This condition includes bad behaviors like stealing, fighting, cheating, destroying one’s property, shouting profanities, using illegal drugs at a young age and carrying deadly weapons.
    • Oppositional defiant disorder: A child with this condition is rebellious, answers back to adults and refuses to follow or obey rules at home or at school.
    • Tourette syndrome: Children with Tourette syndrome have nervous tics. Tics are repetitive, involuntary movements of a body part. He or she can also have involuntary vocalizations such as shouting inappropriate words or profanities.
  4. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 18
    Ask your child’s pediatrician about other medical conditions. Some medical conditions present symptoms that mimic ADHD symptoms. These might include thyroid problems, epilepsy, sleep disorders, and other conditions.[20]
  5. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 19
    Recognize that major life events can dramatically affect children. If your child has undergone a major life event or a traumatic experience (for example, the death of a loved one, bullying in school, divorce or a recent move), he may have some extreme feelings. These might cause him to act in ways that resemble the symptoms of ADHD.

Method 5
Finding Support

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 20
    Take your child to a mental health therapist. Children with ADHD generally benefit from behavioral therapy.[21],[22] This treatment helps individuals accept who they are, while at the same time helps them seek improvements to their situation.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy directly geared toward treating ADHD has been useful for many patients. This type of therapy addresses some of the core problems caused by ADHD, such as time management and organizational issues.[23]
    • You may also want to visit a therapist yourself. Therapy can also provide a safe place for family members to vent frustrations in a healthy way and work out issues with professional guidance.
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 21
    Join a support group. Numerous organizations provide individual support as well as networking amongst members who can get together online or in person to share problems and solutions. Search online for a support group in your area.
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 22
    Find online resources. There are numerous online resources that provide information, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD and their families. Some resources include:
    • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) distributes information via its website, through webinars, and via newsletters. It also provides electronic support, one-on-one live support, and conferences for adults with ADHD.
    • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) was founded in 1987 and now has over 12,000 members. It provides information, training, and advocacy for persons with ADHD and those who care about them.
    • ADDitude Magazine is a free online resource that provides information, strategies, and support for adults with ADHD, children with ADHD, and parents of persons with ADHD.
    • ADHD & You provides resources for adults with ADHD, parents of children with ADHD, teachers and healthcare providers who serve persons with ADHD. It includes a section of online videos for teachers and guidelines for school staff to work more successfully with students who have ADHD.

Method 6
Learning About ADHD

  1. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 23
    Learn about the brain structures of individuals with ADHD. Scientific analyses show the brains of persons with ADHD are slightly different in that two structures tend to be smaller.[24]
    • The first, the basal ganglia, regulates the movement of muscles and signals which should be working and which should be at rest during given activities.[25] If a child is sitting at his desk in the classroom, for example, the basal ganglia should send a message telling the feet to rest. But the feet don’t get the message, thus remaining in motion when the child is seated.[26]
    • The second brain structure that is smaller than normal in a person with ADHD is the prefrontal cortex, [27] which is the brain’s hub for conducting higher-order executive tasks[28]. This is where memory and learning[29] and attention regulation [30] come together to help us function intellectually.
  2. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 24
    Learn how dopamine and serotonin affect individuals with ADHD. A smaller-than-normal prefrontal cortex with lower-than-optimal dopamine and serotonin means greater struggles to focus and effectively tune out all the extraneous stimuli flooding the brain all at once. [31]
    • The prefrontal cortex influences the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.[32] Dopamine is tied directly to the ability to focus[33] and tends to be at lower levels in persons with ADHD.[34]
    • Serotonin, another neurotransmitter found in the prefrontal cortex, [35] impacts mood, sleep, and appetite.[36] Eating chocolate, for instance, spikes serotonin causing a temporary feeling of well-being; when serotonin drops low, however, depression and anxiety result. [37]
  3. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 25
    Learn about possible causes of ADHD. The jury’s still out on the causes of ADHD but it’s well accepted that genetics play a large role, with certain DNA anomalies occurring more often in people with ADHD. In addition, studies show correlations between children with ADHD to prenatal alcohol and smoking as well as to early childhood exposure to lead. [38]
    • Do not smoke around your child. Cigarette smoking is thought to potentially be associated with ADHD. Some studies suggest that smoking mothers or pregnant women surrounded by smokers may be more likely to have children with ADHD.[39] Nicotine has a constricting effect on the blood vessels. This leads to a decreased oxygen supply to the developing fetus which can cause problems with brain development to occur.[40]
    • Consider any accidents your child has had. Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain (the part of the brain that controls behavior and problem-solving skills) may lead to development of ADHD in children.[41]
  4. Image titled Recognize ADHD in Children Step 26
    Keep in mind some positive aspects of ADHD. Children with ADHD exhibit certain characteristics that non-ADHD kids don’t have as much. For example, a child with ADHD is seen to be more creative and imaginative. They are also flexible with what they want. They can be fun to be with because of their enthusiasm, spontaneity, drive and energy.[42]


  • ADHD can be a difficult disorder to deal with. But with the right information, knowledge and professional support, you will be able to raise your child like other kids. Thus, make it a point that you acquire as much information as possible about ADHD.

Sources and Citations

  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
Show more... (39)

Article Info

Categories: Childhood Health | Attention and Developmental Disorders