ADHD Signs and Symptoms in Kids

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that affects the behaviour of children and adults alike. ADHD signs and symptoms in kids can be difficult to identify, as it’s a brain disorder that can cause problems with attention, focus, impulse control, and hyperactivity. In some cases, these symptoms can cause problems at school, at home, and even at work.

Many parents worry about their child having ADHD because of its impact on daily life, as symptoms of ADHD can be noticed at an early age, with most cases being diagnosed between the ages of 3-7. However. many are also diagnosed during adult life, as it may not be recognised as a child.

The NHS has outlined that the ADHD signs and symptoms in kids usually improve with age, but many adults who were diagnosed at a young age continue to experience problems as they become an adult.

What causes ADHD?

The cause of ADHD is unknown but can run in families. Research has also indicated that ADHD can also be caused if the child was prematurely born (before the 37th week of pregnancy), born with low birth weight or if the mother smoked, drank alcohol or took drugs during pregnancy. 

ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability, although it’s more common in people with learning difficulties.

ADHD in kids

The symptoms of ADHD can be categorised into 2 types of behavioural problems:

  • Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

Many cases of ADHD show problems that fall into both categories – it’s not always the case, however.

ADHD is more often diagnosed in boys than girls. Girls are more likely to have symptoms of inattentiveness only, meaning they are less likely to show disruptive behaviour that makes the symptoms more obvious, whereas boys show more hyperactivity symptoms. Unfortunately, this also means that girls who have ADHD may not always be diagnosed. 

Signs and symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers

As stated above, ADHD presents itself in two different categories, which we have listed below.

Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)

The main signs of inattentiveness are:

  • Being easily distracted and having trouble staying focused. Or getting bored with a task before completing it.
  • Having difficulty remembering things following instructions or paying attention to details. This can lead to careless mistakes – for example in school/homework…
  • Appearing forgetful or losing things (like toys, books or homework etc…)
  • Finding it hard to listen or carry out instructions – even if someone is talking directly to them.
  • Having trouble remaining organised, planning ahead or finishing projects.
  • Being quieter and less involved than other kids – they could also stare into space a lot daydream or ignore their surroundings.

The impulsivity of children with ADHD can cause problems with self-control. This may be due to their inability to censor themselves compared to other kids. Other actions are interrupting conversations, invading people’s space or asking irrelevant questions. They can also tend to overreact when it comes to their emotions.

Hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours –

The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:

  • Finding it hard to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • Constantly fidgeting and squirming
  • Having difficulty in concentrating on tasks
  • Moving around constantly, maybe often running or climbing
  • Excessive talking
  • Acting without thinking
  • Interrupting conversations or blurting out answers in class 
  • Unable to keep powerful emotions under control – such as angry outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Inhabiting a little or no sense of danger.

The most obvious sign of ADHD is hyperactivity. It’s known that many children are naturally quite active, but kids with hyperactive symptoms are always in constant motion… They can be trying to do several things at once, like climbing things, bouncing around from one activity to the next, flaying their hands excessively, foot-tapping, walking on their toes, shaking their legs or drumming their fingers. 

Related conditions in children and teenagers with ADHD

Research has shown that in some cases, some children may experience other problems or conditions alongside their ADHD. These are listed below:

  • Anxiety – your child may worry all the time, or exhibit nervousness excessively. Anxiety can also present itself with physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness and fidgeting. 
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – this can be known as negative and disruptive behaviour. It can be towards authority figures too, like parents or even teachers.
  • Conduct disorder – this can present itself in highly antisocial behaviour like fighting, stealing, vandalism or causing harm to others or even animals.
  • Depression – low moods which are hard to come out of. No longer interested in things they used to enjoy or feeling irritable or grumpy all the time.
  • Sleeping problems/insomnia – they could have difficulty in getting to sleep at night or have irregular sleeping patterns.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder – a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour – constant finger tapping, walking on toes or jumping a lot, difficulty to communicate properly, not responding to their name being called, or difficultly in looking into someone’s eyes as they’re being spoken too.

ADHD in Boys

According to the NHS, ADHD is more often diagnosed in boys than girls, this is due to boys typically displaying hyperactivity behaviours more. This can be things like running and shouting, even when playing indoors, constantly moving even when sitting down, playing roughly or repetitive movements. And when boys display behaviours like this, they’re often more noticed, which is why they’re diagnosed easily. However, not all boys are hyperactive, they could be inattentive or impulsive instead.

ADHD in Girls

Girls are equally as likely as boys to have ADHD, but they’re less likely to be diagnosed due to their ADHD symptoms being displayed differently. They’re less likely to show hyperactivity which means they also tend to not disrupt their classes in school, as girls are more likely to have more self-control when it comes to disruptive behaviour. But ADHD in girls tends to show up more when it comes to their attention span. They tend to be labelled as ‘daydreamers’ or even lazy, but they are just less hyperactive and have difficulties with their inattentiveness.

What to do if you think your child has ADHD

While your GP can’t officially diagnose anyone with ADHD, they can refer you to a specialist if deemed necessary. Especially if there are visible ADHD signs and symptoms. If you are worried about your child, it may be helpful to discuss with their teacher to see if they have any concerns about your child’s behaviour or if they’ve noticed anything. This is a useful step before going to see the GP!

The GP may ask you the following questions:

  • What symptoms do you think your child is exhibiting?
  • When did these symptoms start?
  • Where do the symptoms occur – for example, are they at home, school or both?
  • Are the symptoms affecting your child’s day to day life – for example, are they having difficulty in socialising or providing eye contact?
  • Have there been any recent significant events in your or your child’s life, such as a death or divorce in the family? This may have had an effect on your child.
  • Is there a family history of ADHD?
  • Are there any other health conditions your child has/could have? 

These questions can pinpoint whether it’s beneficial to send your child to a specialist to undergo further questions and tests to find out whether your child should be diagnosed with ADHD. 

What is the treatment for ADHD in kids?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for ADHD, but there are treatments to help relieve the symptoms and help ease the problems of day-to-day life for those who have ADHD. 

It can be treated with medication or therapy, but the NHS recommends both, as they work best together. Therapy can be with either a paediatrician, psychiatrist or even monitored by your GP.

Medication

There are 5 types of medicine licensed for the treatment of ADHD:

  • Methylphenidate
  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Dexamfetamine
  • Atomoxetine
  • Guanfacine

Although these aren’t permanent cures, they may help with the condition. They may help your child concentrate better, become less impulsive and feel calmer. Some of these medications will need to be taken every day, but some can be taken on school days. As breaks from the medication are actually recommended…so the GP can access whether to carry on with the medication or not. 

If your GP suggests medication for your child, they may be given small doses first, which will slowly increase. This is to monitor any side effects or any problems when taking the medication. The length of treatment will differ for everyone and will carry on for as long as it’s needed/or helping your child. 

Therapy

Therapy can be just as useful as medication when it comes to treating ADHD in kids, teenagers or even adults. It’s also useful in helping with additional problems that may appear in ADHD, such as anxiety or depression.

Whether it’s psychoeducational – where it helps both child and adult understand the diagnosis of ADHD, how to cope and live with the condition. Or behaviour therapy – where you’ll be provided with support for those who look after children with ADHD. Whether you’re the carer, parent or teacher of the child. It involves behavioural management, using a system of rewards to encourage your child when they show positive behaviours in trying to control their symptoms of ADHD – such as sitting down when eating. Teachers can provide behavioural management through structural activities, praising and encouraging the child for any progress they make. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is also good management, as it helps you change the way your child thinks and behaves in a situation, and how you or your child would change the behaviour in question. It can be done as a group or individually. 

Final words…

ADHD is a complex condition to navigate through, especially as ADHD signs and symptoms in kids can be different to others and it comes with daily challenges. For both the parent and the child, it can be difficult to live with and cope with socially, mentally and emotionally, whether it’s at home or in school. But if you feel like your child may be exhibiting symptoms of ADHD, keep track of any patterns or behavioural characteristics they’re portraying and try to see a GP. That’s the first step to gaining help and support with an ADHD diagnosis.

If you need any more information, please check the NHS webpage on ADHD.

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