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Author: Dr Partha BanerjeaConsultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist

All children can be fidgety, impulsive and have short attention spans at time – it is perfectly normal.

For children with ADHD however these behaviours are more pronounced, occur more frequently, have a bigger impact on their lives and will occur in a variety of settings.

Symptoms of ADHD in children and teenagers

The signs your child may have ADHD or ADD fall into three common areas:

  1. Hyperactivity
  2. Impulsivity
  3. Inattention

Not every child will experience these signs to the same degree and it is also common for children and teenagers’ behaviour to be different or more pronounced in different settings. It’s also common for children with ADHD / ADD to experience differing symptoms as they grow up, so as a parent you may notice a shift in the challenges they experience – this is normal.

A diagnosis of ADHD / ADD requires an impact to be seen in a variety of settings – a thorough assessment should seek feedback from parents, schools and other environments your child spends time in to fully understand this.

It’s also important that parents understand that there can be other reasons why a child might behave in a ‘bouncy’ way or find it really hard to concentrate. These may include ASC or mood disorders.

Understanding the reasons behind your child’s behaviour is therefore crucial to getting the right treatment in place and a thorough assessment will look at whether there is another reason that would better explain your child’s behaviours.

It is thought that up to one in 10 children display signs of ADHD.


Hyperactivity

Common signs of the hyperactivity element of ADHD / ADD in children and adolescence include:

  • Being constantly on the go
  • Fidgeting a lot - finger drumming and tapping are common
  • Squirming in their seat
  • Leaving their seat when they are expected to sit still
  • Being disruptive in class
  • Struggling to do activities quietly, will often make a lot of noise when playing a game
  • Inability to suppress activity when stillness is required

Impulsivity

Common signs of the impulsivity element of ADHD / ADD in children and adolescence include:

  • Blurts out answers without waiting for them to be asked fully
  • May not raise their hand in class but calls out answers
  • Struggles to wait their turn
  • Whilst waiting in line they may poke or annoy other children
  • Interrupts other children’s games and conversations
  • Acts without due reflection or thought

Inattention

Common signs of the inattention element of ADHD / ADD in children and adolescence include:

  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Struggles to complete tasks
  • Does not listen when told instructions and needs them repeating
  • Struggles to complete jobs at home or schoolwork
  • Difficulties organising tasks
  • Dislikes activities requiring a sustained mental effort
  • Becomes easily distracted by irrelevant information
  • Often loses things
  • Struggles to finish tasks, misses steps out, does not complete work

Other symptoms of ADHD / ADD

Other common signs that a child may have ADHD / ADD include:

  • Poor handwriting
  • Social clumsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Learning disabilities
  • Difficulties sleeping such as taking a long time to fall asleep
  • Bed wetting is common in children with ADHD

Dr Banerjea is 'one of a kind". He is remarkably empathetic, non-judgemental and has he unique ability to connect with adolescents. A truly professional, experienced clinician. It is a great shame that adolescents suffering with mental health issues are unable to have access to a clinician like Dr Banerjea. He gives psychiatrists a good name.

Sarah, Bedford


Types of ADHD

1. Predominantly inattentive (ADD) ADHD

Stereotypically, it is thought that girls with ADHD are more likely to have this type, but Psychiatrists will see both girls and boys who meet the criteria for ‘ADD’ or inattentive ADHD.

Children with inattentive ADHD seem to be sitting quietly, but are often not listening or paying attention. Children with Inattentive ADHD can often go undiagnosed as their behaviour is not as obviously disruptive. Left undiagnosed, these children may develop self-confidence issues as they may feel they are ‘stupid’ or unable to complete tasks. They can experience inner turmoil as they struggle to finish tasks or be able to listen to the instructions required of them.

2. Predominantly hyperactive – impulsive

Children with hyperactive / impulsive ADHD fit the stereotypes of ‘bouncing off the walls’, fidgeting and getting up from their seats even when they are asked to sit quietly. Children with this diagnosis can take risks, such as jumping from heights and can be disruptive in a classroom.

A lot of young children with ADHD will display hyperactive tendencies – as they mature and grow older they are able to learn different ways of manging their restlessness. For instance, teenagers tend to fidget more, but will be able to remain in their seat.

3. Combined

For a child to be diagnosed with combined type ADHD, they have to experience both symptoms of hyperactive and inattentive ADHD. This can mean a child experiences all the restlessness and fidgeting of the hyperactive element, but also gets easily distracted, struggles to complete a task and may forget to turn homework in on time.

Many of the behaviours described above are experienced by all children from time to time, which can make it hard to know if your child has ADHD. As a general rule, children with ADHD often do not act like other children their age, experience the above behaviours in a variety of settings and whilst doing a variety of activities.

Understanding the symptoms of ADHD allows both teachers and parents to look at a set of difficulties in a new light, and move away from labelling certain behaviours as 'being naughty' or 'difficult'.
MBChB, MRCPsych

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
London

Dr Partha Banerjea is a very senior and experienced Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist. He is currently the Lead clinician for Southwark CAMHS, and has for the last 15 years managed a specialist outpatient adolescent service. This is a...

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