We all know kids who can’t sit still, talk nonstop or blurt out inappropriate comments. But is this normal kid behavior, or does it suggest ADHD?
To meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, a child or adult must display several symptoms that severely interfere with their quality of life. There are also a few other important distinctions to keep in mind.
You may be surprised that hyperactivity isn’t always a sign of ADD/ADHD. People with only the disorder’s inattentive subtype can show many other symptoms, including disorganization and problems staying on task. They daydream often and have trouble paying attention when spoken to directly. They also tend to have difficulty making decisions or thinking of consequences. They procrastinate and are prone to missing important deadlines.
Children and adults with the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADD can also be restless, fidgety, talkative, easily bored or forgetful. They need help with sitting still or playing quietly and often make careless mistakes or take on tasks without thinking about them. They are easily distracted by outside stimuli such as light, sounds and certain smells and tastes. They need to play better with others and tend to blurt out answers to questions before they’ve been asked.
To be diagnosed, knowing the difference between ADD and ADHD is crucial. Being diagnosed with the combined presentation of ADD/ADHD, a person must display three or more inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms and have them present before the age of 12. Their symptoms must appear in multiple settings and be severe enough to interfere with their work, school or social life.
A person with predominantly inattentive symptoms of ADHD may forget to complete tasks, struggle with organization and find it hard to concentrate. They get easily distracted and often daydream or zone out. They may also rush through tasks like homework or reading and miss important details. They may blurt out answers during class without waiting to be called on or listened to; they skip over parts of their assignments, fail to proofread an email or report at work carefully.
Inattentive symptoms can go unrecognized because they aren’t as disruptive as the hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms of ADHD. They can lead to trouble in school and relationships with peers and family members. They can cause frustration at home and work, especially when they result in missed opportunities or failure to meet deadlines.
Symptoms of inattention can be caused by many things, including learning disabilities, certain medical conditions (like thyroid problems or epilepsy), psychological disorders and major life events. It’s important to rule these out before seeking treatment. A psych eval will help.
Impulsivity can be a sign that someone has ADD or ADHD. It means they make rash decisions without thinking them through first. They may interrupt others or blurt out answers before being asked a question. They might buy things they don’t need or spend money they don’t have. They might say “yes” to every invitation or try to tackle too many projects at once.
They might also act in ways that could harm themselves or others, like reckless driving or playing pranks. They might be prone to antisocial behaviors or engage in risky activities with a high chance of negative consequences, such as using illegal drugs or gambling.
Everyone makes impulsive choices sometimes, but it’s time to take action when it becomes a pattern and starts hurting your life. Using the self-monitoring techniques described in our article on adult ADHD, you can begin to notice your impulsive behavior and learn how to manage it. One of the best ways to do this is by identifying your triggers and learning to check in with yourself before acting impulsively.
People with ADHD often struggle with disorganization. They may need help completing school assignments, work tasks or household chores. They might misplace things like keys, eyeglasses or their cell phone. This can cause frustration and a feeling of helplessness for adults with this disorder.
A person with ADHD has difficulty filing things away so they might keep them on tables and chairs instead of in closets or drawers. This is because the brain’s frontal cortex isn’t equipped with a working memory, which is needed to file information and retrieve it quickly when required.
Getting organized may take some time, but it should never feel oppressive. The key is not biting off more than you can chew; tackling one behavior at a time to achieve success. A therapist can help you create systems to organize your environment and routines so you don’t feel overwhelmed by your tasks. This may include setting up a calendar to schedule events and appointments, assigning a specific place for keys and phones, and breaking larger tasks into smaller parts to make them more manageable.
People with the inattentive subtype of ADHD tend to avoid tasks that require deliberate, conscious attention. They procrastinate, often need to remember to write down important information (like a class assignment or meeting time) and lose the required materials. They can also be more prone to protective rituals, like preparing food ingredients in the same order each day or checking locks multiple times before leaving home.
Everyone procrastinates at times, but when it’s a frequent pattern that interferes with your life, it can be a sign of a mental health issue. Putting off work can feel like an escape from anxiety-provoking situations. For example, someone who doesn’t feel uncomfortable in crowds may avoid going to parties by playing with the host’s dog instead.
This type of avoidance can become a vicious cycle because it reinforces the behavior over time. Psychiatrists recommend exposure therapy to help break the cycle by exposing the person to the triggers they avoid. Over time, the experience of facing the triggers decreases anxiety in the long term. That’s why getting a proper diagnosis before starting treatment is important.