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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD inattention, hyperactivity or impulsive behavior often show up first at school. A teacher may report to parents that their child won't listen, is "hyper," or causes trouble and is disruptive. A child with ADHD often wants to be a good student, but the symptoms get in the way. Teachers, parents and friends may be unsympathetic, because they see the child's behavior as bad or odd.

A high level of activity and occasional impulsiveness or inattentiveness is often normal in a child. But the hyperactivity of ADHD is typically more haphazard, poorly organized and has no real purpose. And in children with ADHD, these behaviors are frequent enough that the child has a harder than average time learning, getting along with others or staying reasonably safe.

ADHD symptoms can vary widely, but here are common characteristics of the disorder:

  • Difficulty organizing work, often giving the impression of not having heard the teacher's instructions

  • Easily distracted

  • Excessively restless or fidgety behavior; unable to stay seated

  • Impulsive behavior (acts without thinking)

  • Carelessness

  • Frequently calling out in class (without raising hand, yelling out answer before question is finished)

  • Failing to follow through with teachers' or parents' requests

  • Difficulty waiting for his or her turn in group settings

  • Unable to stay focused on a game, project or homework assignment; often moving from one activity to the next without completing any

Many children with ADHD also show symptoms of other behavioral or psychiatric conditions. In fact, such problems may be different ways that the same underlying biological or environmental problems come to light. These associated conditions include learning disabilities and disorders characterized by disruptive behavior.

  • Learning disabilities Up to a quarter of children with ADHD may also have learning disabilities. This rate is much greater than the rate found in the general population.

  • Oppositional, defiant or conduct disorders These behavior disorders, which involve frequent outbursts of extremely negative, angry or mean behavior, affect as many as half of all children who have ADHD. Children who have both ADHD and behavioral disturbances are more likely to have a poor long-term outcome, with higher rates of school failure, antisocial behaviors and substance abuse.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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