ADHD: Recognizing the Symptoms

CHADD helps to build knowledge during ADHD Awareness Month in October

LANHAM, Md.--()--Everyone can have difficulty sitting still, paying attention or controlling impulsive behavior now and then. But for some, these issues are so pervasive and persistent that they interfere with the activities of daily life. This indicates the presence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects eight percent of school-age children and more than four percent of adults in the United States. How do you know when you or a loved one should seek a professional evaluation? CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)—the nation’s leading resource on ADHD—explains the signs to look for.

The classification system found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the gold standard used by healthcare professionals when evaluating patients for ADHD. To be diagnosed, children should have six or more symptoms of the disorder present, while adolescents age 17 and older and adults should have at least five symptoms present. The DSM-5 lists three different presentations of ADHD—Predominantly Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined. The symptoms for each are summarized below. The DSM-5 also requires professionals to determine the severity of the disorder as mild, moderate or severe, as ADHD affects individuals to varying degrees.

ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention
  • Does not appear to listen
  • Struggles to follow through with instructions
  • Has difficulty with organization
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Loses things
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful in daily activities

ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

  • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
  • Has difficulty remaining seated
  • Runs about or climbs excessively in children; extreme restlessness in adults
  • Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
  • Acts as if driven by a motor
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • Difficulty waiting or taking turns; interrupts or intrudes upon others

ADHD Combined Presentation

  • Meets the criteria for both inattention and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentations
  • Symptoms can change over time, so children may fit different presentations as they get older

As there is no single test to diagnose ADHD, a comprehensive evaluation by a professional is necessary to establish a diagnosis, rule out other causes, and determine the presence or absence of co-existing conditions. Such an evaluation requires time and effort and should include a careful history and a clinical assessment of the individual’s academic, social, and emotional functioning and developmental level. There are several types of professionals who can diagnose ADHD, including clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, neurologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians.

When not properly identified, diagnosed and treated, ADHD can have serious consequences, including academic and work failure, family stress and disruption, depression, relationship problems, substance abuse, accidental injuries, and financial and legal difficulties. ADHD is very manageable using an individualized, multimodal treatment approach that can include behavioral interventions, parent and patient training, educational support and medication. With the proper treatment, individuals with ADHD can be highly successful.

To learn more, visit or call 310.306.7070.


CHADD is the leading resource on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), providing support, training, education and advocacy for the 17 million children and adults in the United States living with ADHD, their families, educators and healthcare professionals. As home to the National Resource Center on ADHD, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CHADD is the most trusted source of reliable, science-based information regarding current medical research and ADHD management.


Barbara Link, 610-668-2855


Barbara Link, 610-668-2855