Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 5% of children. It can have a significant impact on a child’s life. As a parent, it can be difficult to recognise the signs of ADHD and to determine if your child might have it and need professional help.
That being said, understanding the signs of child ADHD is an important first step in getting your child the help they need and making sure they have the support required to excel. To help you recognise the symptoms of ADHD , we’ve put together this article which provides a comprehensive overview of the most common ADHD signs in children.
There are a number of common symptoms that children with ADHD generally experience, but ADHD is unique to every person and there are multiple types of ADHD. This means not every child with ADHD will display all of these common ADHD symptoms, and some children may display more symptoms of inattention than hyperactivity, or vice versa.
It’s important to note that a diagnosis can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional, typically in the UK, a Consultant Psychiatrist. If your child has any of the symptoms talked about below, this does not necessarily mean that they have ADHD; however, these symptoms are commonly seen in children with ADHD and could be a sign that your child has the condition, and may need additional support from medical professionals.
Being Unable to Sit Still, Especially in Calm or Quiet Surroundings
Children with hyperactive ADHD typically find it hard to sit still and stay quiet, and this might manifest itself in the classroom, at the dinner table, or simply at home. This symptom can be disruptive.
Some children with ADHD find it hard to avoid fidgeting and constantly need their hands to be doing something. From picking at things to tapping their fingers and playing with objects nearby, fidgeting can be a sign of hyperactive behaviour. Some children fidget to try and stay focused or in listening-mode.
Being Unable to Concentrate on Tasks
Lots of children with ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention and concentrating on tasks, be it at school or at home. They often get distracted part way through, or they find it hard to get in the zone and get started with something, either because of distractions or because they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. Due to a lack of concentration and trouble focusing, ADHD diagnosed children also often make careless mistakes in their work.
Excessive Physical Movement
In addition to fidgeting and not being able to sit still, some children with hyperactive ADHD may have increased energy levels and seemingly don’t get tired, even if they’ve been doing intense physical activity for a long time.
Children with ADHD often find it hard to control their impulses and their brains tend to think of lots of things at once, meaning they might have a lot to say and don’t have the immediate ability to consider whether it’s the right time to talk.
Being Unable to Wait Their Turn
Impulsiveness can lead some children with ADHD to find it hard to take turns and have difficulty waiting, such as being given a gift bag or using a piece of equipment at the park.
Acting Without Thinking
Children with ADHD don’t always process the consequences of their actions, so they may act without thinking first.
Another aspect of impulsiveness is frequently interrupting conversations. This could be in social situations, at home, or at school.
Hyperactive vs Inattentive Symptoms of ADHD in Children
ADHD can present with different symptoms and behaviours, and it is important for parents to understand the differences between the two main subtypes of ADHD: hyperactive-impulsive type and inattentive type.
Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD is characterised by excessive activity levels and impulsiveness. Children with this subtype may fidget, squirm, run or climb excessively, and have difficulty staying seated. They may also interrupt others, do things without thinking and struggle to wait their turn. These behaviours can interfere with their performance at school and how they conduct themselves in social situations, leading to difficulty in making friends and maintaining relationships.
In contrast, inattentive type ADHD is characterised by problems with attention and organisation. Children with this ADHD subtype may struggle to focus on tasks, forget things easily, and have trouble completing tasks. They may also not listen when spoken to, be easily distracted and have trouble following instructions. This type of ADHD can often be overlooked because it does not include the hyperactive and impulsive behaviours seen in the hyperactive-impulsive type, with many parents making the mistake of believing that their child is lazy or rude instead.
It is important to note that many children with ADHD have symptoms of both subtypes, known as combined ADHD, and it is common for symptoms to change over time. Some children may have more hyperactive-impulsive symptoms in early childhood, but exhibit more inattentive symptoms as they get older. Identifying the right type of ADHD and learning symptom management methods early on is imperative for ensuring your child has every opportunity to succeed into adulthood.
Testing and Diagnosing ADHD in Children
Diagnosing ADHD in children can be a complex process, but it’s an important step in getting the support and treatment that your child needs. In the UK, there are two healthcare routes: private, or through the NHS. Whether you go down either route the testing and diagnosis process between the public and private sector should be essentially the same and ultimately the diagnosis of ADHD is based on a combination of clinical evaluations, assessments of behaviour and symptoms, comparing collateral information and the exclusion of other potential conditions.
The first step in diagnosing ADHD may be a clinical evaluation by a GP. Whilst GPs can’t diagnose ADHD alone, they can make referrals or suggestions for referrals if they think your child might have ADHD. They can also determine if something else could be causing the symptoms.
During the initial evaluation, the GP will ask you questions about your child’s symptoms and behaviour, as well as about their developmental, medical and family history. They will ask questions such as:
- When the symptoms started
- Where the symptoms occur, such as at school, at home, or both
- If the symptoms are affecting your child’s daily life, such as academically or socially
- If a recent life event has happened, such as divorce or the death of a loved one
- If your family has a history of ADHD
- If there are any other symptoms or health conditions your child has
Sometimes, a ‘watchful waiting’ period is observed. This is a 10-week period to see whether symptoms improve. If not, a referral to a specialist may be made so they can do a formal assessment.
You may choose to self refer and to undertake a private ADHD assessment at a specialist ADHD clinic immediately as opposed to going through your GP. If you do choose this route then it is still advisable to keep your GP well informed.
After a clinical evaluation, your GP may refer you to a specialist ADHD service or recommend a private service for a full diagnostic assessment. In the UK this is typically carried out by a consultant psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor specialising in mental health. The consultant psychiatrist will conduct a full clinical evaluation and ADHD assessment, checking collateral information from parents, other significant caregivers, the school, and your child; whilst looking to rule out other potential causes of your child’s symptoms, such as a learning disability, anxiety or depression. The psychiatrist will typically take a full history of your child’s development, the onset of symptoms, their level of functioning at school and at home, their social and family history, and screen for any other mental health symptoms.
At The ADHD Centre, during an assessment, you will meet with a specialist child and adolescent psychiatrist who will use the Conners 3 diagnostic assessment tool. The Conners 3 diagnostic assessment tool is recognised as the gold standard for ADHD symptomatology, and looks at symptom and behaviour reports from the child, their parent(s), and their teachers. This information is then used to determine whether the child meets the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, taking into account medical history that could be indicative of other potential conditions.
Once all of the information has been gathered and evaluated, your specialist will determine if your child meets the criteria for ADHD. To make an ADHD diagnosis, the child must:
- Have continuous symptoms for at least six months
- Display symptoms before the age of 12
- Show symptoms in at least two different settings, e.g., at school and at home, to make sure their symptoms/behaviour aren’t associated with a particular parenting or teaching style
- Experience social, academic or occupational difficulties that makes their life harder in these areas
- Have symptoms that cannot be accounted for by another condition, developmental disorder, or behaviourally difficult phase
It is important to note that ADHD can be difficult to diagnose in children and that the process can take a long time.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, your consultant psychiatrist will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your child’s individual needs. This may include ADHD medication, behavioural therapy and educational interventions, as well as support and resources for the family. Your child’s teachers may also be directly involved in implementing a plan for your child at school and ensuring their needs are being met.
When to Speak to a Professional About Your Child’s ADHD Symptoms
ADHD affects every child differently and symptoms are unique to each person, but early identification and treatment can have a significant impact on your child’s development and overall quality of life. If you notice that their symptoms are impacting their day-to-day life, such as causing issues at school, making it hard for them to socialise, or affecting their behaviour at home in a way that creates a negative environment for everyone, it could be time to seek help.
A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional can help determine the type and severity of your child’s ADHD and guide the development of an appropriate treatment plan.
ADHD treatment can include medication, behavioural therapy and educational interventions, such as speaking with the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) and your local council to implement an education, health and care plan (EHC).
Additionally, you can help your child by setting clear expectations and routines at home, breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and providing positive reinforcement. Being the parent of an ADHD child can be difficult and it might seem overwhelming at times, but engaging openly with supportive services and attending courses on dealing with ADHD can help. The sooner you seek professional help, the sooner you can be directed to supportive services, and this will help not just your child, but also you and your wider family unit.
Diagnosing and Treating ADHD in Children at The ADHD Centre
At The ADHD Centre, we provide a private ADHD assessment and treatment service for children. We have a team of leading specialists that can professionally assess and diagnose your child, and work with you and your child’s teachers to implement an effective and cohesive treatment plan. If you think your child is displaying symptoms of ADHD, please call us on 0800 061 4276 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can help.