Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been called attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in the past. But ADHD is now the preferred term because it describes both of the primary features of this condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. In some children, signs of ADHD are noticeable as early as 2 or 3 years of age.

Signs and symptoms of ADHD may include:

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Frequently daydreaming
  • Difficulty following through on instructions and apparently not listening
  • Frequently has problems organizing tasks or activities
  • Frequently forgetful and loses needed items, such as books, pencils or toys
  • Frequently fails to finish schoolwork, chores or other tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequently fidgets or squirms
  • Difficulty remaining seated and seemly in constant motion
  • Excessively talkative
  • Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others' conversations or games
  • Frequently has trouble waiting for his or her turn

ADHD occurs more often in males than in females, and behaviors can be different in boys and girls. For example, boys may be more hyperactive and girls may tend to be quietly inattentive.

Normal behavior vs. ADHD

Most healthy children are inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive at one time or another. It's normal for preschoolers to have short attention spans and be unable to stick with one activity for long. Even in older children and teenagers, attention span often depends on the level of interest.

The same is true of hyperactivity. Young children are naturally energetic — they often wear their parents out long before they're tired. In addition, some children just naturally have a higher activity level than others do. Children should never be classified as having ADHD just because they're different from their friends or siblings.

Children who have problems in school but get along well at home or with friends are likely struggling with something other than ADHD. The same is true of children who are hyperactive or inattentive at home, but whose schoolwork and friendships remain unaffected.

When to see a doctor

If you're concerned that your child shows signs of ADHD, see your pediatrician or family doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, but it's important to have a medical evaluation first to check for other possible causes of your child's difficulties.

If your child is already being treated for ADHD, he or she should see the doctor regularly until symptoms have largely improved, and then every three to four months if symptoms are stable. Call the doctor if your child has any medication side effects, such as loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, increased irritability, or if your child's ADHD has not shown much improvement with initial treatment.

Mar. 05, 2013

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.