Symptoms & Diagnosis of ADHD in Children

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Overview of Symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD in children are classified into three criterion: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. An ADHD child may demonstrate more inattention than hyperactivity symptoms or may have more hyperactivity and impulsivity than inattention symptoms. A child that displays hyperactivity symptoms will also show impulsivity, but may not have any of the inattention signs. It is also possible to observe all types of symptoms.

A child with inattention symptoms-

  • gets distracted easily

  • forgets and overlooks details

  • switches hastily from activity to activity

  • does not sustain focus

  • leaves tasks uncompleted

  • loses things and possessions

  • appears to be confused often

  • daydreams frequently

  • struggles visibly just to follow instructions

  • ignores people who talk to him

A child with hyperactivity symptoms -

  • talks incessantly

  • twitches, squirms, and wriggles while on his seat

  • moves around too much

  • grabs and plays with anything within reach

  • appears uncomfortable with quiet tasks

A child with impulsivity symptoms –

  • blurts out thoughts and ideas even when inappropriate or irrelevant

  • displays extreme and high-strung emotions

  • interrupts conversations and activities

  • appears abnormally impatient

The National Institute of Mental Health emphasized that the child must have exhibited the above symptoms to an extreme degree for six months or more before ADHD is suspected.

ADHD and Other Disorders

The listed symptoms above seemed easy to understand but ADHD has been mistaken for a different disorder or a different disorder has been wrongly assumed as ADHD. For example, a child who is hyperactive and displays excessive excitement can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder but such behaviors are also symptoms of ADHD. A child who seems distracted and often loses his/her pencils and crayons can be assumed to have the inattention-type of ADHD but this child might be suffering from APD or Auditory Processing Disorder. The similarity of symptoms between ADHD and other disorders is the primary challenge of physicians and psychiatrists. But there is something else that further complicates the diagnosis of ADHD in children: many disorders coexist with ADHD. That is, the ADHD children suffer from other disorders. Some of the disorders that have been known to coexist with ADHD are learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety and depression, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

Diagnosing the ADHD Child

The approach of specialists and psychiatrists is often to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing the child with ADHD. This is often based on the nature of the disorder. For example, if ADHD is undiagnosed and untreated during childhood, the ADHD adult will suffer from depression. But if bipolar disorder was undiscovered and untreated during childhood, the adult will most likely commit suicide. Therefore, it is more prudent for psychiatrists to first rule out bipolar disorder. Once the child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the specialist also needed to determine whether the ADHD is uncomplicated or coexists with another disorder.