In general, children are known for their distractible, high-energy behaviors. Parents everywhere will undoubtedly have days when they throw up their hands, feeling tired of repeating their requests or chasing their kids around the house.
These types of repeated behaviors may cause parents to wonder if their kid's attention span is suffering from a serious problem like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After all, they may check quite a few of the boxes that describe ADHD-like behavior.
However, many children who appear to have ADHD don’t have the disorder at all—they’re simply a high-energy kid. It’s very important to avoid jumping to a diagnosis and learning all the facts about ADHD before reaching a conclusion.
Understanding symptoms of ADHD
The most common symptoms of ADHD that parents know to look for include hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsivity. These symptoms can manifest in many different ways, but they tend to come down to the basic concepts of not being able to focus, control actions or control energy levels and how those are expressed.
However, there are many more aspects of ADHD that parents should look for if they are concerned their child has ADHD.
- Trouble regulating their emotions, which may manifest as tantrums or fits of frustration after even small mistakes or challenges.
- Trouble remembering things and staying organized, meaning they may forget to bring important things home from school each day, forget about routine chores, have trouble prioritizing assignments properly or struggle to manage their time.
- Constant interrupting and focusing on the self, which may cause problems in social situations and look like them having trouble sharing, waiting their turn or holding conversations.
In addition, high energy can be attributed to ADHD in some cases, but the presence of hyperactivity does not necessarily mean your child has ADHD. In fact, certain forms of ADHD aren’t even hyperactive at all and may actually look like quiet daydreaming or spacing out.
All children are sure to have problems with displaying inappropriate or hyperactive behaviors, waiting their turn, controlling their emotions and sitting still on occasion. We have to remember that children, in general, tend to be fidgety and forgetful at times. However, ADHD is usually much more extreme than the occasional problem with the things listed above—they tend to be constant.
Because of this, it is very important that parents take a close and comprehensive look at their child’s behavior before having them diagnosed with ADHD.
How can you tell the difference?
Because most children are likely to display the occasional behavior that coincides with ADHD, it can be difficult for parents to truly know whether their child has an underlying problem or if they just need a little more exercise and guidance to behave well.
One of the major differences between normal, childlike hyperactivity and ADHD is an impairment in functioning or learning. Parents should be on the lookout for multiple symptoms of ADHD, including problems regulating behaviors, emotional outbursts and a lack of organization, in addition to inattentiveness and hyperactivity.
ADHD is also likely to be present over time. If your child was extremely well-behaved and attentive at age 5 but suddenly becomes inattentive and ill-behaved at school at age 7, you should examine what else may have led to a change in their behavior.
If parents are approached by their child’s teacher about the possibility that their child has ADHD, it’s also important to consider context. Studies have found that children who are the youngest in their classes in school are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, which raises questions about ADHD as it compares to hyperactivity and immaturity.
In many cases, younger children are compared to their older classmates and don’t actually have ADHD—they are just a little less mature. For this reason, young children shouldn’t be compared to their classmates alone when examining their behavior.
Finally, another thing parents might miss is the difference in their child’s behavior between home and school. Children with ADHD are likely to have consistent behavior in all situations, causing hyperactivity around family and friends and in classroom or other inappropriate settings. If the child is exhibiting hyperactive behavior in only some circumstances but is well-behaved and can control their functionality in others, they are most likely not experiencing ADHD.
The trouble with misdiagnosis
Misdiagnosis may result in your child not getting the help they need. For example, some symptoms of ADHD are also symptoms of child anxiety or indicate a learning disability, rather than an attention-deficit disorder. By focusing on ADHD, you may be missing the signs of other problems that won’t be addressed through ADHD-focused therapy or medication.
It’s not enough to notice that your child doesn’t always listen to instructions and has a lot of energy that causes them to run and jump throughout the house at all hours of the day. Each individual symptom should be observed, logged and compared to truly understand what might be going on.
If you are concerned about your child’s hyperactivity and inattentiveness, pay close attention to their behaviors, speak with their teachers and other guardians and visit your doctor to discuss your findings. If ADHD does not appear to be the case, they may be able to guide you in the right direction.