Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Signs and Symptoms

The characteristic features of ADHD—inattention, impulsivity, and motor hyperactivity—lead to impaired function in school, work, and social environments. Family problems like abuse, neglect, separation, and divorce tend to exacerbate low self-esteem and symptoms in many children with ADHD. Throughout the course of the disorder, which can be lifelong, some symptoms resolve or diminish to the point where they no longer interfere with functioning. Hyperactivity typically fades after childhood.

Symptoms of Inattention in Children

ADHD Signs and Symptoms article - Masterfile

  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained attention
  • Disorganized (e.g., at school, at home)
  • Easily distracted (e.g., by peripheral conversation, refrigerator noise)
  • Forgetful in daily activities
  • Loses things (e.g., toys, books, tools, assignments)
  • Makes careless mistakes in schoolwork and activities
  • Unable to complete tasks (e.g., schoolwork, chores)
  • Unable to sustain an activity (e.g., playing, reading, listening, conversing)

Inattention in girls is most often expressed as daydreaming, which may go unnoticed. A lack of self-sufficiency may result from problems with inattentiveness, which poses developmental problems for children and adolescents.

Symptoms of Inattention in Adults

ADHD Symptoms article - Masterfile

  • Disorganized
  • Forgetful (e.g., missing appointments, deadlines)
  • Loses things (e.g., keys, wallet)
  • Unable to complete tasks (e.g., home repairs, work reports)
  • Unable to cooperate with coworkers

Symptoms of Impulsivity in Children

  • Aggressive (e.g., rough handling of objects, accidental breakage, physical injuries)
  • Blurts out responses (e.g., answers without being called on at school, interrupts)
  • Generally impatient (e.g., unable to stand in line or wait turn)
  • Intrudes on others (e.g., interupts conversations or games)

Girls are less likely to engage in or cause physical fights. Fear, depression, and mood swings are more common in girls with ADHD than in boys.

Symptoms of Impulsivity in Adults

  • Erratic temper, aggressiveness
  • History of excessive job changing
  • Impulsive purchasing, decision making
  • Substance abuse

People who have problems with impulsivity have a greater tendency to injure themselves and/or others. They may not consider the consequences of their actions when, for example, grabbing hot pans, driving recklessly, or roughhousing (especially children).

Symptoms of Hyperactivity in Children

  • Activity appears to be driven
  • Unable to remain seated
  • Runs and climbs excessively in inappropriate situations
  • Restlessness in adolescents
  • Talks excessively
  • Fidgets
  • Noise making, unable to play quietly

These symptoms tend to occur more frequently in busy or highly stimulating group settings, like classrooms, family gatherings, and parties. Typically, more stimuli and more activity cause greater distraction, hyperactivity, and shortened attention span. Symptoms may not appear in a highly focused setting, such as in a one-on-one meeting in a counselor's office.

Hyperactivity typically fades after childhood.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 27 Aug 2015