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Symptoms and Subtypes of ADHD

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Symptoms of ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD include:

  • inability to sustain attention and concentration (inattention)
  • distractibility
  • developmentally inappropriate levels of activity (hyperactivity)
  • impulsivity

Symptoms of ADHD may appear over the course of many months. Symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity may appear first. Symptoms of inattention may not emerge for a year or more. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are more noticeable than inattention.


A child with symptoms of inattention may:

  • make careless mistakes or fail to pay attention to detail
  • have difficulty paying attention to a task for more than a few minutes
  • not seem to listen when spoken to
  • not follow through on instructions or fail to finish schoolwork or chores
  • have trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • avoid or dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort, including homework or schoolwork
  • lose or have trouble keeping track of things that she needs, such as toys, books, or school assignments
  • be easily distracted
  • be forgetful

Hyperactivity and impulsivity

A child with symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • often fidget or squirm in his seat
  • leave his seat when he is expected to remain seated
  • run around or climb when it is inappropriate
  • have trouble playing quietly
  • be often "on the go" or act as if "driven by a motor"
  • talk too much

A child with symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • blurt out answers before the question is finished
  • have trouble waiting for his turn
  • interrupt others

ADHD symptoms look different at different ages

ADHD looks different at different ages:

  • During early childhood, hyperactive and impulsive symptoms are more obvious. Children may move before thinking or seem "driven by a motor."
  • Teens and adults may look calmer, but feel restless inside. They may talk in sudden bursts.
  • Symptoms of hyperactivity may become less obvious as a child grows older. By the teen years, the hyperactivity symptoms may be gone but the inattention will usually remain.
  • Symptoms of inattention usually last from childhood to adulthood. These symptoms include forgetfulness, disorganization, and problems concentrating.

ADHD symptoms are not always the same

Children with ADHD always have some symptoms. However:

  • They may look different in different children.
  • They may change depending on what the child is doing.
  • They may be different at school, at home, or in another setting.
  • They may change from day to day and from moment to moment.
  • They may become worse when the child is bored, unsupervised, or doing something difficult.
  • They may become better when the child is doing something he enjoys, when he is rewarded immediately, or when he is closely supervised.
  • They are often less noticeable in girls than in boys.

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Subtypes of ADHD

There are three subtypes of ADHD. Depending on his symptoms, a child may be diagnosed with:

  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive subtype: mainly hyperactive or impulsive symptoms, few or no inattentive symptoms. This subtype is rare compared to the others.
  • Predominantly Inattentive subtype: mainly inattentive symptoms, few or no hyperactive symptoms.
  • Combined subtype: both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD