The Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADD and ADHD


Getting a diagnosis is the first step in finally gaining control over symptoms that cause problems at work, school or in relationships. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders offers criteria to help doctors diagnose ADHD.


To qualify for a diagnosis, the symptoms must have been present before age 12 and caused impairment in more than one area of life. Signs must also not be explained by another disorder.



Difficulty Paying Attention

A person with ADHD may struggle to remain focused, follow instructions, or complete tasks. They may easily get bored and seek out new experiences. This can lead to difficulty with school or work. They might also need help with family and friends.

It’s common for ADD to co-occur with other disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and Tourette syndrome. It can also coincide with substance use problems, learning disabilities, and sleep disorders. It’s important to rule out any other health condition that might explain the symptoms and difference between ADD and ADHD before diagnosing ADHD.


To qualify for an ADHD diagnosis, a child or adult must exhibit six or more inattention and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms that cause significant problems with daily functioning. These behaviors must have lasted at least six months or longer and been observed in two or more settings. They must be present before 12 in children and adults to qualify for a diagnosis of either the inattentive or combined type of ADHD.

Children and adults with the inattentive type of ADHD typically don’t have the hyperactivity/impulsive symptoms. However, they still need help staying on task and frequently need to remember things. They may have difficulty sitting still, squirming in their seats, fidgeting, or talking excessively. They may have problems playing or engaging quietly in leisure activities and have frequent trouble waiting their turn.


If you are an impulsive person, you often act before thinking. This can be a big problem regarding relationships, finances, and work. It can also make it hard to control your behavior, especially as you get older and have more balls to juggle (such as a career, family, and home).

In people with ADD, impulsiveness may look like:

• Fidgeting, tapping or squirming frequently.


• Talking excessively, blurting out answers before questions have been finished or interrupting others when speaking.

Children with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD talk nonstop and have trouble focusing on tasks, schoolwork or play activities. They often interrupt or intrude on others in conversations, games and activities and cannot wait for their turn when waiting in line. They might grab or use other people’s things without permission. Older teens and adults are more likely to interrupt, butt into conversations or take over other people’s games or projects.

Impulsiveness can also be associated with other mental health conditions, such as bipolar or antisocial personality disorder. It can also be a symptom of substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. If you have one or more of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention.


People with ADHD often have trouble sitting still, staying focused, or completing tasks like homework or work. They might make careless mistakes or need to be more organized. Researchers know that there are differences in how major networks of nerve cells in the brain work in people with ADHD. They also think neurotransmitters, which help transmit signals from one nerve cell to another, play a role.

Kids with hyperactive symptoms of ADD and ADHD are always moving. They may fidget, tap their feet, or squirm in their seat, even when asked to do so. They may try to do several things at once and have trouble playing or doing leisure activities quietly. They are easily distracted by sounds or other people and need help waiting their turn. They often blurt out answers before the question has been fully asked, need help waiting for their turns at games or conversations, and take over other people’s things without permission.


People with the predominately hyperactive-impulsive type of ADD and ADHD have at least six symptoms from both the inattentive and the hyperactive/impulsive categories and have had these problems for at least six months. This presentation typically affects younger children and is the least common presentation of the disorder.

Difficulty Organizing

People with ADHD may have trouble filing and organizing papers, leading to many unpaid bills, missed appointments, and forgotten medications. Disorganization can also make it difficult to manage a job, keep a home and family in order, or maintain a regular schedule. Adults with ADHD often feel inadequate because they have so many difficulties in work and their personal lives and a sense of shame for being unable to manage their impulsive and distractible behaviors.

Adults with ADHD must recognize that their problems are not their fault. Once they know the real cause of their struggles, they can focus on achieving their goals and finding solutions to the problems that prevent them from doing so.

For example, if they need to be more mindful of appointments, try planning their schedules with extra time so they will arrive on time. It’s also a good idea to set alarms or use a daily planner to remind them of important events and meetings.

Getting help is also crucial. A therapist or coach can teach adults with ADHD organizational strategies and techniques to overcome their challenges. They can also offer advice for dealing with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and other mental health issues that frequently co-occur with ADD/ADHD.


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