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What are the signs and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are developmental disorders that can affect both children and adults. The conditions are typically characterised by difficulties in concentrating, problems with speech and actions, and impulsive behaviour. ADHD in particular is also associated with excessive energy and hyperactive behaviour, whereas those with ADD don’t tend to exhibit this hyperactivity and instead, tend to be more shy.

The symptoms of ADHD and ADD can vary from person to person, and also according to whether the sufferer is a child or an adult.

ADHD and ADD symptoms in children

The symptoms of ADHD and ADD in children can be separated into inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive signs:

Inattentiveness symptoms:

  • Easily distracted, with a short attention span
  • Struggling to concentrate for long periods of time, and making simple mistakes when doing their homework
  • Sticking to just one task is difficult for them and they may want to switch between several different tasks
  • An inability to stick to tasks that are time-consuming, or those that they perceive to be ‘boring’
  • Difficulty organising themselves when carrying out tasks or activities
  • Losing things often and being forgetful
  • Inability to listen to or carry out instructions
  • Frequently ‘daydreaming’

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness symptoms:

  • Primarily in ADHD, your child may struggle to sit still in quiet environments
  • Fidgeting constantly and being unable to relax
  • Running around or climbing on top of furniture, often at inappropriate times
  • Talking excessively
  • Unable to wait their turn, such as when in line for food at a party
  • Losing their temper easily
  • Tends to act without thinking
  • Often shouts out in class and guesses answers rather than taking the time to think them through
  • Reduced sense of danger
  • Interrupting conversations and other people’s games

ADHD and ADD may also appear alongside a number of other problems or conditions in young people. These include:

ADHD and ADD symptoms in adults

  • Poor organisational skills which can affect your ability to carry out work related tasks or manage finances
  • Frequently starting new projects before finishing old ones
  • Finding it difficult to focus on tasks or prioritise work
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequently misplacing or losing things
  • Restlessness that can make it difficult to complete lengthy tasks
  • Difficulty keeping quiet and not waiting your turn to speak in meetings or general conversation
  • Mood swings, irritability and extreme impatience which may affect relationships both at home and at work
  • Struggling to cope in stressful situations
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • A reduced sense of danger

Again, there are a number of other mental health conditions that can co-occur alongside ADHD and ADD in adults. These include:

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Michael Phelan (MBBS, BSc, FRCPsych) in October 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in October 2020. To view all Priory ADHD and ADD specialists, please click here.

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