Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Symptoms 

Symptoms of ADHD 

The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be categorised into two sets of behavioural problems.

These categories are:

  • inattentiveness
  • hyperactivity and impulsiveness

Most people with ADHD have problems that fall into both these categories, but this is not always the case.

For example, some people with the condition may have problems with inattentiveness, but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This form of ADHD is also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), and it can sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms may be less obvious.

Symptoms in children and teenagers

The symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers are well defined, and they are usually noticeable before the age of six. They occur in more than one situation, such as at home and at school.

The main signs of each behavioural problem are detailed below.

Inattentiveness

The main signs of inattentiveness are:

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes  for example, in schoolwork
  • appearing forgetful or losing things
  • being unable to stick at tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • having difficulty organising tasks

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness

The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
  • constantly fidgeting
  • being unable to concentrate on tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • being unable to wait their turn
  • acting without thinking
  • interrupting conversations
  • little or no sense of danger

These symptoms can cause significant problems in a child's life, such as underachievement at school, poor social interaction with other children and adults, and problems with discipline.

Related conditions in children and teenagers

Although not always the case, some children may also have signs of other problems or conditions alongside ADHD, such as:

  • anxiety disorder  which causes your child to worry and be nervous much of the time; it may also cause physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating and dizziness
  • oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – this is defined by negative and disruptive behaviour, particularly towards authority figures, such as parents and teachers
  • conduct disorder  this often involves a tendency towards highly antisocial behaviour, such as stealing, fighting, vandalism and harming people or animals
  • depression
  • sleep problems  finding it difficult to get to sleep at night, and having irregular sleeping patterns
  • autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)  this affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour
  • epilepsy  a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated fits or seizures
  • Tourette’s syndrome  a condition of the nervous system, characterised by a combination of involuntary noises and movements called tics
  • learning difficulties – such as dyslexia

Symptoms in adults

In adults, the symptoms of ADHD are more difficult to define. This is largely due to a lack of research into adults with ADHD.

ADHD is a developmental disorder; it is believed that it cannot develop in adults without it first appearing during childhood. However, it is known that symptoms of ADHD often persist from childhood into a person's teenage years, and then adulthood. Any additional problems or conditions experienced by children with ADHD, such as depression or dyslexia, may also continue into adulthood.

By the age of 25, an estimated 15% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children still have a full range of symptoms, and 65% still have some symptoms that affect their daily lives.

The symptoms in children and teenagers, which are listed above, is sometimes also applied to adults with possible ADHD. However, some specialists say that the way in which inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness affect adults can be very different from the way they affect children.

For example, hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults, while inattentiveness tends to get worse as the pressure of adult life increases. Also, adult symptoms of ADHD tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.

Therefore, some specialists have suggested the following list of symptoms associated with ADHD in adults:

  • carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
  • poor organisational skills
  • inability to focus or prioritise
  • continually losing or misplacing things
  • forgetfulness
  • restlessness and edginess
  • difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn
  • blurting out responses and often interrupting others
  • mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
  • inability to deal with stress
  • extreme impatience
  • taking risks in activities, often with little or no regard for personal safety or the safety of others  for example, driving dangerously

Additional problems in adults with ADHD

As with ADHD in children and teenagers, ADHD in adults can occur alongside several related problems or conditions.

One of the most common conditions is depression. Other conditions that adults may have alongside ADHD include:

  • personality disorders  conditions in which an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others
  • bipolar disorder  a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)  a condition that causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour

The behavioural problems associated with ADHD can also cause problems such as difficulties with relationships, social interaction, drugs and crime. Some adults with ADHD find it hard to find and stay in a job.

Getting help

Many children go through phases where they are restless or inattentive. This is often completely normal and does not necessarily mean they have ADHD.

However, you should consider raising your concerns with your child's teacher, their school's special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) or your GP, if you think your child's behaviour may be different to most children their age.

It's also a good idea to speak to your GP about the possibility of having an assessment if you are an adult and you think you may have ADHD.

Read more about diagnosing ADHD.

Page last reviewed: 15/05/2014

Next review due: 15/05/2016

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Comments

The 16 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

48Debs said on 19 December 2013

I am in the very first stages of trying to find out if I have ADHD. A flippant comment from a family member has made me look into this.
I am not sure what my next step is but having a look on this site this morning I now feel rather scared of going to see my GP just in case i get laughed out the surgery...
Any advise would be very welcomed xx

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Andrew Lewis said on 07 August 2013

From my experience of helping very many adults through here are some tips of gaining an adult ADHD diagnosis:

See your GP with copy of NICE guidelines and possibly a relative/friend to support you.

Be specific (don't say simply "I am forgetful and late") but share severe symptoms that have caused you issues e.g. lost job, late six months to pay a parking ticket, cannot focus in meetings, failing Uni despite everyone's high expectations etc.

Remain firm, even if GP suggests your problem lies in their comfort-zone issues of depression/anxiety/normal behaviour. Calmly but repeatedly request to be diagnosed. Gently remind them that a GP is not able to either diagnose your ADHD or not.

If this approach fails as it often does, change your GP.

If your GP/PCT/NHS region still resists and diagnosis looks months/years away, consider private diagnosis.

Ask your GP "if I pay for private a diagnosis and they diagnose me and suggest medication - would you Mr/Mrs GP accept a "shared care" agreement with my private ADHD psychiatrist". This way the GP follows their guidance and provides initial tests (BP/HR etc) and prescription medication, otherwise you will be stuck paying for monthly private prescriptions and consultations. There is no guarantee they will accept "shared care" but most do.

Now find a decent experienced private ADHD specialist (try www.aadd.org.uk) and remember generally cheap means less thorough. Check out the private psychiatrists experience of ADHD, medications they typically prescribe, the diagnosis process and tests they use and importantly how comprehensive a report they would produce on your ADHD diagnosis (a short letter is not so good, a full report is best to convince current and future GPs).

Good luck, often diagnosis demands very non-ADHD skills of patience, persistence, calmness and form filing!

Regards

Andrew Lewis
Adult with ADHD and ADHD Coach

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Andrew Lewis said on 07 August 2013

At the moment the NHS is pretty much a disaster when it comes to ADHD, in particular for adults. It's great that we have NHS NICE write guidelines to say ADHD exists in children and adults, and that it should be treated. Only problem, the guidelines are hidden in a virtual basement and hardly anyone (besides those already informed) knows they exist. Most GPs and Psychiatrists remain untrained, ignorant and even prejudiced - "an American invention", "women don't have it", "you don't have ADHD as you have a degree/can sit and talk with me".

Even if GPs were all fully trained and accepting of the need for ADHD support, it would only marginally improve things as so few psychiatrists know how to diagnose ADHD. A further major issue is cost. The NHS fund-holders, PCTs etc are scared of the financial black hole that ADHD threatens. Millions of undiagnosed adults and ridiculous internal charging rates (Maudsley Hospital costs PCTs nearly £2000 for a diagnosis vs around £400-£800 for a private diagnosis (often more comprehensive than NHS), just makes the situation worse.

See my next post for some tips from my experiences of helping very many adults through ADHD diagnosis in the UK.

Though medication can and does help many adults with ADHD it is far from a cure (not that we all necessarily want that anyway). Learning and understanding as much as you can about ADHD through books, support groups and internet sites can make as profound a difference as meds in handling your issues. CBT is good for anxiety and depression, not really for the core symptoms. ADHD coaching is best for developing effective ADHD approaches and behaviours.

Andrew Lewis
Adult with ADHD and ADHD Coach

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MAS1478 said on 23 April 2013

Just a quick note if this has not been said before. If your Registered GP excludes you you then think about registering with another surgery - NHS24 can help you with surgeries currently taking on patiernts.

Mental health diagnosis / medication is a lottery

1.Medication - one mans food another mans poison this can go on and on until something helps or zombiefies you

2 Psychaitric evaluation - many people go from a diagnosis of Schizophrenia to Bi polar to Border Line perosnality and to Psychosis etc etc over many years. If you get caught up in this and complain you will be automatically classed as BPD. Good luck - antipsychiaytry lives - talking works- do your own research

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tahirh said on 03 January 2013

I'm 31 year old male, and now think that I may suffer from adhd. I find it hard to start and end tasks. I undetachieved academically though I went to university and graduated. Procastination has become a way of life fir as long as I can remember.

I was naughty as an infant but had no behavioural problems at high school. I got 100 per cent in my third year maths exam had no problems with reading or writing.

I have found it hard to keep jobs due to getting bored and and not focussing as well as making mistakes. I can't organise my self either.

I have not had an official diagnosis but what would be the best way forward. I have also suffered from depression. I was abused as a child but have had counselling for it.

I did my dissertation over night having done no work on it through out the year. I passed but not with the degree classification I could have got.

Any advice would be welcome.

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kelbi said on 06 August 2012

should i get checked?? i have really really bad memory and constantly get told off at college and at work..i cant follow more than 4 instructions and often forget what ive been taught. I am also very slow at working. My friends often say i should get checked. I get distracted and often get told off for not paying attentiona and looking out the window instead.

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charleyhawkins28 said on 20 June 2012

Im 18 next week and i am so hyper, im load, happy, talk really fast, i basicly have pretty much most of the simtoms of the kids and most of the adults. ever since i was born ive never slept. i get around 4-5 hours of sleep every nighte. im not sure if i have adhd or add but my mum thinks i have. i also have ocd tendancys but not sure weather to go to the doctors and get checked for it. Should i?! x

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cdsinuk said on 24 May 2012

im 51 years old had 30 + jobs was first diagnosed 1994 with borderline personality disorder, been on and off of antidepressants for years at a time, recently fell out with all NHS and my own doctors because of almost psycotic thought processes and was dropped by mental health sevices because i was convinced their diagnosis was wrong, i have no help at all now, am destitute because i cant get a job, sold all my stuff to afford a specialist to assess me and diagnose me, it was ADHD and a pill concerta xl has made a miraculus effect on me, cured just about all my inner symptoms, but it makes no difference, i cant afford the medication privately, my doctors wont talk to me after argument over treatment, and i cant even claim benefits bedcause i havent enough NI contributions, so i will be returning to my old self really soon as i have only 10 tablets left at £140 per prescription i dont stand a chance, if i had benn diagnosed properly in the first place my life may have been so different, so back to despair and poverty i go.... ADHD doesnt exist for adults in the NHS according to my so called doctors ive seen, do you doctors have any idea what antidepressants do to some people with this condition, try listening to patients for a change i even gave them the diagnosis after years of research and was still ignored ! its a complete joke im disgusted by my treatment these past two years,

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ferretfecker said on 27 March 2012

as a 33 year old adult going into the mental health unit to be told i have adhd and exibit the signs and symptoms of ther various other aspects i am disgusted to discover that as a child i was labelled a naughty child, then refered to child psychologists, then my secondary school tried to exclude me as being unsuitable to be in the premises, yet i still had no proper diagnosis. I sleepwalk, have lost employement as a result of anger issues, under achieved or failed to reach my potential as i was bored to tears, drank myself into several stupours, taken anti depressants/suppressants, attended anger management, and still managed to slip through the net. The only time i was taken seriously was when i attended a psychologist appointment and i was told they wanted to test me for bi polar disorder as well as adhd. I am angry that i wasnt taken seriously, i am angry that my mother was made to feel like a bad mother and to this day i still find it hard to comprehend the anger that was building up in me. everything hit me in the head, i was taking painkillers for my legs and back and thought that i didnt deserve to be here, i still take risks, speak inappropriately but have learned some coping mechanisms, the main one being to take meds. However the one thing i will say is that it is a lot harder to get a proper diagnosis as people are too quick to give a label, just remember to breath i guess is the only thing i could say, it doesnt get easier in my opinion, however with understanding or someone who understands you without judging it becomes tolerable, however knowing this doesnt stop the feelings bubbling under the surface...do i sound mad yet?

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NoniMausa said on 02 December 2011

Sherlin, as you note there are many work-arounds to cope with ADHD in adulthood. The most effective strategies shift attention, memory, and planning out of your own head (where they are disabled and will 60% or 70% of the time let you down) and into your environment.

I have them all -- a giant calendar, lots of preset alarms, clocks all over the house, and a checklist of things to check before I go out, taped to the front door. I've developed these work-arounds over the past half-century, and they're still only reliable only about 85% of the time.

My mother used to say I "needed a keeper," and ironically she was right. The best way to succeed with adult ADHD is to have a spouse or a companion who provides the skills of remembering, planning and aligning attention which are reduced or absent in the brain circuitry of ADHDers. For a retired, unmarried ADHDer like me, this is quite discouraging.

One thing has become clear in recent research -- training classes and practicing memory and attention exercises have almost no effect on performance in ADHDers outside of the context where the training is taking place. They're trying to train a muscle that isn't there, and failing after taking such classes can often produce depression along with the ADHD, which is still there untouched. It's a lifetime condition, it doesn't go away.

The past 10-15 years of research have found out a lot about ADHD, of whatever age. Be alert to the age of any research you may encounter, it might be outdated by now. Public opinion, needless to say, is badly outdated.

Noni

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Native said on 26 November 2011

Watched a bio of David Neeleman http://www.bloomberg.com/video/72535922/

and was effectively introduce to ADULT ADDH via this video and realised, at the age of 60, that I have had it ......... all the failures and differentiators suddenly drop into place.

Shocking. Why doesn't the NHS educate the population in this and other conditions that have only been recognized in recent decades.

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andrewcrawford said on 26 October 2011

SHerlin,

You have no clue about adhd if you did you know that your suggestions do not work, i have it and i can tell you now no matter what i do i still have loads of energy it has got better in old age but i still more bouncy than adult my age, the amount of energy it produces masked my serious illness to the point it nearly killed me because the adhd allowed me to keep going even though people with this illness in minor stage was a lot mroe worse effected than me until the adhd coudl no long mask the illness at which point i went down hill quickly so adhd is not treatable liek you say

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nikkibooboo said on 04 September 2011

hiya im wanting some advice as i think my 6yr old son has adhd hes showing all signs on inatteniveness,hyperactivity and impulsivness apart from a few, i have 4 children and hes the 2nd youngest hes been like this from a early age getting worser as he gets older

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macdin said on 06 February 2011

we have concerns regarding a teenager in our family. he is displaying almost all the signs of inattentive add. my question is.. who do we approach to get a diagnosis and then where do we go from there?
we are anxious to get things moving quickly to help him.
thanking you.

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sue516 said on 03 January 2011

Sorry, Sherlin....it doesn't quite work like that. 'work on your relationships'.....how? If I knew that I wouldn't have the difficulties. Sleep eludes me - my mind is just too active. It's hard to just listen too.
It's clear you do not have ADD

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sui said on 26 August 2010

"ADHD has no effect on intelligence", but intelligence can have effect on ADHD; symptoms of ADHD are often masked in people with high intelligence, sometimes appear 'normal', but still have serious difficulties and underachievement.

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Talking to kids

If you think a child is having problems, whether you're a parent, grandparent or friend, getting them to talk can really help