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What is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition of the brain that makes it difficult for children to control their behavior. It is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood. It affects 4% to 12% of school-aged children. About 3 times more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD.

The condition affects behavior in specific ways.



Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD includes 3 groups of behavior symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The table below explains these symptoms.



How a child with this symptom may behave


  • Often has a hard time paying attention, daydreams

  • Often does not seem to listen

  • Is easily distracted from work or play

  • Often does not seem to care about details, makes careless mistakes

  • Frequently does not follow through on instructions or finish tasks

  • Is disorganized

  • Frequently loses a lot of important things

  • Often forgets things

  • Frequently avoids doing things that require ongoing mental effort


  • Is in constant motion, as if "driven by a motor"

  • Cannot stay seated

  • Frequently squirms and fidgets

  • Talks too much

  • Often runs, jumps, and climbs when this is not permitted

  • Cannot play quietly


  • Frequently acts and speaks without thinking

  • May run into the street without looking for traffic first

  • Frequently has trouble taking turns

  • Cannot wait for things

  • Often calls out answers before the question is complete

  • Frequently interrupts others


Types of ADHD

Not all children with ADHD have all the symptoms. They may have one or more of the symptom groups listed in the table above. The symptoms usually are classified as the following types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive only (formerly known as attention-deficit disorder [ADD])—Children with this form of ADHD are not overly active. Because they do not disrupt the classroom or other activities, their symptoms may not be noticed. Among girls with ADHD, this form is more common.
  • Hyperactive/Impulsive—Children with this type of ADHD show both hyperactive and impulsive behavior, but can pay attention. They are the least common group and are frequently younger.
  • Combined Inattentive/Hyperactive/Impulsive—Children with this type of ADHD show a number of symptoms in all 3 dimensions. It is the type that most people think of when they think of ADHD.

How You Can Tell if Your Child Has ADHD

Remember, it is normal for all children to show some of these symptoms from time to time. Your child may be reacting to stress at school or home. She may be bored or going through a difficult stage of life. It does not mean she has ADHD.

Sometimes a teacher is the first to notice inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity and bring these symptoms to the parents’ attention.

Perhaps questions from your pediatrician raised the issue. At routine visits, pediatricians often ask questions such as

  • How is your child doing in school?
  • Are there any problems with learning that you or your child’s teachers have seen?Is your child happy in school?
  • Is your child having problems completing class work or homework?
  • Are you concerned with any behavior problems in school, at home, or when your child is playing with friends?

Your answers to these questions may lead to further evaluation for ADHD. If your child has shown symptoms of ADHD on a regular basis for more than 6 months, discuss this with your pediatrician.




Last Updated
Understanding ADHD: Information for Parents About Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.