ADHD Symptoms: What To Look Out For


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Imagine a fifth-grader in a classroom, bouncing around from seat to seat, unable to sit still, talking constantly, showing little to no attention span, listening to the teacher for brief moments, but unable to hold onto the words which he or she said very long.

It’s the common stereotype of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or more commonly called ADHD. It’s a slam-dunk case some would say. But is it? And that’s when the problems arise.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website, “Deciding if a child has ADHD is a several-step process. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other problems, like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms.”

The American Psychiatric Association does provide a guide, however. It’s called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and it’s used by mental health professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and the like—for diagnosing various mental disorders, including ADHD.

Released in 2013, the DSM-5 had some changes from the previous manual. Symptoms can present themselves in the child by age 12 rather than age 6. Multiple symptoms now need to be present in more than one setting, rather than just some impairment in a single setting. New descriptions were added to show what symptoms would look like at older ages. And finally, for those ages 17 and over, only five symptoms need to be present rather than six.

That said, what are the symptoms of ADHD and how are they organized?

There are two main categories, quickly summed up by a neat DSM-5 definition of ADHD: “People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”

The first major category is “inattention.” The symptoms include not giving close attention to details about homework or making repeated careless errors, not listening when spoken to directly, and having trouble organizing tasks and activities.

Of course, there is the additional bullet point that may sum it all up: “Is easily distracted.”

The second major category is called “hyperactivity and impulsivity.” The symptoms include fidgeting, tapping with the hands or feet, or squirming while seated. They also include talking excessively and interrupting or intruding on others, such as butting in on a game.

Read the full list on the CDC’s website here.

There are also four “conditions” that must be met, such as the symptoms must be present before the age of 12 and must occur in two or more settings, among other conditions. And finally symptoms can be grouped into three “presentations” of ADHD, which is either predominantly inattention, predominantly hyperactive and impulsive, or a combined presentation.

WebMD adds, “These are traits that most children display at some point or another. But to establish a diagnosis of ADHD, sometimes referred to as ADD, the symptoms should be inappropriate for the child's age.”

Note: The image at the top is a map of the United States color-coded based on ADHD diagnoses of children. It goes from gray to light blue with the darkest gray being “14-15.9 percent” and with the lightest blue being “5.6-7.9 percent.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons