Last Modified: November 25, 2023 | Published: April 14, 2023
How do I know if my child has ADHD?
In the fast-paced world that we live in today, it can be hard to know if your child is having trouble focusing because of ADHD. You may be wondering if it is just due to our culture. As clinicians, we are looking for clear signs and symptoms of ADHD.
In this article, we will go over three important aspects of recognizing ADHD.
- Signs and symptoms of ADHD
- What you can do if you suspect your child has ADHD
- Other possible causes for inattention
Age is important
For your child to be diagnosed with ADHD, you want to see issues showing up before the age of 12. If your child is now a teen and you are just now noticing your child is struggling to focus or pay attention, the cause may be something different. You also want to see these symptoms occurring in all aspects of your child’s everyday life. You will notice the struggles at home, school, and community activities.
There are two ways ADHD can present in children. The first is Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive presentation. Parents and health professionals most often miss this presentation of ADHD. This is the child who can sit still. You will often hear, “If they just applied themselves, they would do so well.” You may also hear, “It always appears as if your child is daydreaming.” You may notice your child sits at the table to do their homework, and an hour has passed, and they still have made no progress.
Hyperactive & Impulsive Type
The other way ADHD can present in children is Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation. In this presentation of ADHD, you will notice your child is constantly moving and has trouble stopping to think before acting. For example, your child may always get in trouble, and when you ask them why they did something, they respond, “I don’t know.” What is true is they really don’t know.
You may wake up in the morning just starting your day, starting a pot of coffee, and your child is already doing laps around the house. It may feel like your child can not stop moving. You may find yourself secretly wishing they would just be still or stop talking for just a moment so you can get some peace.
There are some children who have just the impulsivity without hyperactivity. These children are not moving constantly but they might make ‘interesting’ decisions. You may find yourself asking, “Why did you do that?” The child will feel remorseful but have no recollection of their thought process. It’s almost as if no thoughts occurred before the child took a certain bold action. Kids who are impulsive may be risk takers and may enjoy adventure. It is fairly likely that they will get in trouble at school sometimes for poor decisions or behavior.
Other causes of inattention
One cause of inattention or inability to focus outside of ADHD can be anxiety. This can be hard to tease apart. There are some key differences. With ADHD, you often see symptoms in your child from a young age, especially in the hyperactive/impulsive presentation.
When your child can not focus due to anxiety, it is often because they get lost in ‘what-if thoughts.’ Your child’s worry can get in the way of focusing on a task. For example, your child is in school and they are spending the day worried about what is happening at home or the basketball tryouts that are next week. Your child’s thoughts are the reason for their inattention. You will notice your child asking ‘what-if’ questions, they will want constant reassurance. Your child may look worried or have frequent stomach aches.
Trauma activates the sympathetic nervous system, leaving the body in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Being in one of these modes can make it hard to be still or pay attention. When your child has experienced a traumatic event in the past, they may feel unsafe or uncomfortable in many situations.
Trauma can lead to worried thoughts, acting out, trouble being still, and negative behavior. This can take a lot of work to sort through. What can help is actively listening to your child. Be open, present, and available. Kids will often try to tell us what is wrong, given that adults stay patient and willing to listen.
Not sure where to start? Try the Cadey app for strategies that will help today.
If I think my child has ADHD, what are my next steps?
Parent training is the first step in helping your child. If you would like to learn more about the signs and symptoms of ADHD, check out the blog article on the Definitions, Signs, and Symptoms of ADHD.