What are the signs of ADHD?

the signs of adhd

In this article, we’ll help you understand the signs of ADHD in both kids and adults, explain why early recognition is so important, and introduce some ways to manage the condition effectively.

More than 7 million (11.4%) children in the US live with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This means that around 1 in 9 might struggle with issues that make it hard to pay attention, stay still, or concentrate on tasks. While many consider symptoms of ADHD temporary and think this disorder only affects people during their childhood, it actually extends into adulthood for many.

In fact, according to APA, about 2.5% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD and its symptoms continue to impact their daily lives, work, relationships, and overall well-being. That’s why it’s especially important to recognize the signs of ADHD as early as possible and seek appropriate intervention.

But what exactly is ADHD and how can it affect our lives?

What is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental condition, mainly diagnosed in children that manifests in a wide range of atypical behaviors, such as difficulties with maintaining attention, excessive impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inability to be still. People with ADHD experience these symptoms because their brains process information differently. As a result, they have different behaviors, emotions, and learning abilities than average people.

Psychologists group the symptoms of ADHD in 3 different categories:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Type – Individuals with this type of ADHD have trouble focusing, following instructions, and organizing tasks. While speaking to them, you might have an impression that they don’t listen or notice that they seem to drift away from the conversation.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type – Those with this form of ADHD display constant movement and seem like they have excess energy. Usually, they behave impulsively, can’t be still, and find it challenging to wait for their turn, especially in group settings.
  • Combination Type – This type of ADHD is characterized by a mix of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Thus, people with combined ADHD symptoms struggle to stay focused, while also feeling an urge to move or speak.

Understanding the Real Cause of ADHD

Even though ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders that affects millions of people worldwide, its exact root cause remains unknown. Researchers suggest that the disorder is linked to a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.

According to Dr. Connie McReynolds (PhD), the real cause of ADHD can be found in the way our brains process information. In her book, “Solving the ADHD Riddle”, she points out that individuals with ADHD often have difficulties with how their brains handle information processing, memory retention, and attention focus.

Effective processing, in general, is essential for following specific instructions and completing tasks but for those with ADHD, this is especially challenging for one reason — their brains process information in a different way and can’t hold onto it long enough to act on it effectively. This, in turn, makes it harder for these people to do everyday tasks, such as finishing homework, remembering appointments, or staying focused on a task.

Unfortunately, behaviors of children with ADHD are often misunderstood and not all ADHD interventions are effective in addressing the underlying problem. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the specific ways ADHD affects their cognitive functions and direct interventions toward more effective information processing.

Core Symptoms of ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD can be diverse and manifest differently in children and adults. Here are some of the most common signs that combine all 3 types of ADHD:

ADHD Symptoms in Children

  • Inattention – Difficulty maintaining attention during performing tasks. They often make mistakes in their work due to difficulty focusing.
  • Hyperactivity – Continuous movements, such as fidgeting or squirming; inability to play quietly; engaging in activities loudly or disruptively.
  • Impulsivity – Interrupting conversations, answering before questions have been completed, and difficulty waiting for their turn.
  • Forgetfulness – Kids and teenagers with ADHD often forget things or lose personal items.
  • Social challenges – Difficulty maintaining relationships as a result of ineffective dialogues, missing social cues, and a tendency to react inappropriately in social interactions.

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

  • Work and academic challenges – Struggle with maintaining focus at work or college, which often results in frequent job changes or underperformance.
  • Low self-esteem – Difficulty pursuing goals or performing tasks often leads to frustration and impacts the self-esteem of adults with ADHD (e.g., Pedersen et al., 2024).
  • Relationship challenges – ADHD is often manifested in ineffective personal and professional relationships, misunderstandings, and conflicts. This is usually due to impulsivity and inattention.
  • Safety issues – Increased distractibility and impulsivity can lead to a higher rate of accidents and injuries, as adults may not always be fully aware of their surroundings.

Differentiating ADHD from Related Conditions

Comparison of APD and ADHD Symptoms

Sometimes parents notice that their children have difficulties with hearing or understanding speech. For example, your child might not be able to remember information presented verbally or follow spoken instructions. While these are common symptoms of ADHD as well, the cause of these issues might be different and point to Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), instead of ADHD.

Specifically, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an auditory system disorder. It’s a condition where the brain has trouble processing sounds in the way they are heard. Children with APD may hear sounds correctly but they can’t interpret the meaning, especially when the information they receive is accompanied by background noise

While difficulties in auditory processing can be a symptom of ADHD as well, usually ADHD involves a wider range of symptoms that are present in various settings and not only during listening tasks. Still, since APD symptoms are similar to some of the signs of ADHD, it’s common for children to be misdiagnosed with ADHD when they actually have APD.

Note that APD can coexist with ADHD and an individual might be diagnosed with both of these conditions. In fact, a classic comorbidity study of these two disorders suggests that 50% of children with ADHD also have APD (Riccio et al., 1994). But as a rule of thumb, if the difficulties are mainly in understanding speech and distinguishing sounds and less about behavioral issues, your child might have APD instead of ADHD.

Why ADHD Isn’t the Same as Learning Disabilities

APD isn’t the only condition often confused with ADHD. Another common misconception about ADHD is that it’s the same as a learning disability. But even if you’re diagnosed with ADHD and have some learning difficulties, you should know that ADHD and learning disabilities are different conditions.

A Learning Disability (LD) is also a neurodevelopmental disorder but unlike ADHD, it specifically affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information. As a result, children with learning disabilities might have trouble reading, writing, or doing math. But this doesn’t mean they have issues with attention or impulse control, which are symptoms of ADHD instead.

While ADHD can make it harder to focus on learning tasks, it does not directly affect the brain’s ability to process information the way learning disabilities do. Nevertheless, similar to APD and ADHD, learning disabilities and ADHD might as well co-occur. In particular, studies show that more than 45% of individuals diagnosed with ADHD also struggle with learning disabilities (DuPaul et al., 2012).

ADHD vs Vision Problems

Interestingly, ADHD and vision problems can also present similar symptoms, such as difficulty focusing and maintaining attention. After all, vision problems also make it hard for children to pay attention and perform schoolwork effectively. The reason is that when the vision isn’t working properly, children easily lose focus and forget the information they read. But again, vision issues come from the eyes’ inability to see clearly, while ADHD involves broader attention and behavior challenges.

Emotional Dysregulation and ADHD

ADHD is often linked to difficulties in managing emotions as well. According to APA, emotional dysregulation is part of ADHD and people with ADHD often experience emotional dysregulation symptoms, such as intense emotional reactions, mood swings, and difficulty coping with frustration. Some researchers even consider emotion dysregulation as a core symptom of ADHD (Soler-Gutiérrez et al., 2023).

These emotional challenges can add to the struggles in daily life caused by ADHD symptoms and impact relationships, work performance, and overall well-being. Consequently, working on resolving emotional dysregulation is usually a part of ADHD intervention to help people resolve these emotional difficulties.

What Are Your Treatment Options If You Have ADHD?

Today, the treatment options for people diagnosed with ADHD have expanded beyond traditional methods. Ideally, mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and school counselors collaborate to create an effective treatment plan based on a child’s unique needs.

Recent studies have been demonstrating that specialized Neurofeedback treatment can significantly reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children (McReynolds, Villalpando, and Britt, 2018). The issue is that regular “neurofeedback” treatment (relaxation only) is not what is designated to work for reducing ADHD symptoms. It is important to have neurofeedback that is specifically designated for the symptoms that one is experiencing.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and help individuals manage their impulsive or inattentive behaviors is behavioral therapy. Studies show that cognitive behavioral-based interventions effectively reduce the symptoms of ADHD not only for children but for adults too who are diagnosed with ADHD (Liu et al., 2023). In the case of children, this support is often provided both at home and in educational settings.

Health professionals also use medications, such as stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamines in addition to therapy to help people with ADHD improve concentration and decrease impulsivity. Several studies show that medications in combination with therapy are especially effective for longer outcomes (e.g., Pan et al., 2024).

If you notice that you or your child or you might be having symptoms of ADHD, you should know that getting professional help is crucial. At Health for Life Counseling, our team of licensed therapists are ready to provide personalized support and guidance.

Reach out to us at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI, or call us anytime and find out more about our counseling services for ADHD. Our professional therapists are here to help you and your loved ones with the challenges of ADHD.

Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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