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Kid Behavior ADHD Getty Images 109723548

Kid Behavior or ADHD? Understanding the Difference

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Diagnosing Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a process that takes several steps and involves gathering information from multiple sources including you, your child, and your child’s school or other caregivers who see your child on a consistent basis.

Because there are no definitive tests for ADHD, it’s important to look for signs. If you spot just a few signs, or if the symptoms don’t appear to be causing your child problems in his or her day-to-day functioning, it’s probably not ADHD.

On the other hand, if your child shows a number of ADHD signs and symptoms that are present in a number of situations (e.g., at home, at school, and at play), and if this is causing him or her problems (e.g., academic performance below what is expected, trouble with peer relationships, getting into trouble often at home and/or school), it’s time to take a closer look.

The three primary characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.


  • Has trouble staying focused; is easily distracted or gets bored with a task before it’s completed
  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Has difficulty remembering things and following instructions; doesn’t pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Has trouble staying organized, planning ahead, and finishing projects
  • Frequently loses or misplaces homework, books, toys, or other items


  • Constantly fidgets and squirms
  • Has difficulty sitting still, playing quietly, or relaxing
  • Moves around constantly, often runs or climbs inappropriately
  • Talks excessively
  • May have a quick temper or “short fuse”


  • Acts without thinking
  • Guesses, rather than taking time to solve a problem or blurts out answers in class without waiting to be called on or hear the whole question
  • Intrudes on other people’s conversations or games
  • Often interrupts others; says the wrong thing at the wrong time
  • Inability to keep powerful emotions in check, resulting in angry outbursts or temper tantrums

Before an accurate diagnosis of ADHD can be made, it is important that you see a medical professional to explore and rule out the following possibilities:

    • Learning disabilities or problems with reading, writing, motor skills, or language.
    • Major life events or traumatic experiences (e.g. a recent move, death of a loved one, bullying, divorce).
    • Psychological disorders including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
    • Behavioral disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
    • Medical conditions, including thyroid problems, neurological conditions, epilepsy, and sleep disorders.

When the source of your child’s difficulties is identified, and with the right support, your child can get on track for success and learn tools needed to perform to his or her fullest potential. To learn more about ADHD, you can also visit the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)’s website.

The Michael R. Boh Center for Child Development offers consultations, evaluations, and treatment for children and adolescents. Learn more:


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