ADHD symptoms in kids are common. In fact, around 1 in 20 Australians have ADHD. Every child will struggle to pay attention at least sometimes, so it can be challenging for parents to recognise the symptoms of ADHD in their child. Is it just the occasional normal attention lapse, or is it ADHD? What are ADHD symptoms in kids?
This guide will provide you with the tools and knowledge to identify and manage ADHD in your child, so they can thrive both at home and in school.
Understanding ADHD and its symptoms
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to focus, control impulses, and regulate behavior. Symptoms of ADHD can vary from child to child, but common signs include difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and at school, and must interfere with the child’s daily functioning in order to be diagnosed as ADHD. It’s completely normal for a child to get distracted from time to time – it’s only when these symptoms intefere with learning and social relationships that health professionals should be involved.
Recognising ADHD symptoms in kids
As a parent, it can be difficult to recognise ADHD symptoms in your child, especially since some of the signs can be mistaken for typical childhood behavior. Also, many behavioural and developmental disorders have symptoms that overlap with ADHD. However, common signs of ADHD include difficulty paying attention, forgetfulness, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty following instructions. If you notice these symptoms in your child, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if your child has ADHD and to develop a management plan.
There are two groups of symptoms of ADHD:
Inattentive ADHD symptoms in kids
- Difficulty maintaining focus in class, conversations, or while reading
- Avoidance of tasks requiring continuous mental effort (e.g., homework)
- Tendency to start but not finish tasks
- Not following through on instructions
- Challenges in organising tasks, activities, belongings, or time
- Lack of attention to details or making careless mistakes in schoolwork
- Frequent distraction or daydreaming
- Misplacing or losing items
- Appearing inattentive when spoken to
- Forgetfulness regarding everyday tasks, such as chores and appointments
Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD symptoms in kids
- Fidgeting and squirming
- Blurting out answers
- Having difficulty playing quietly
- Having difficulty waiting their turn
- Leaving their seat in class or other situations where sitting is expected
- Constantly in motion, as if “driven by a motor”
- Struggling to play or do tasks quietly
- Running or climbing in inappropriate situations
- Leaving their seat in class
- Talking non-stop
- Interrupting conversations, games, or activities, or using people’s things without permission
A typical day in the life of a child with ADHD
In the morning, the child forgets to brush their teeth, or forgets to put their pencil case in their backpack. Once at school, they can’t concentrate on the teacher’s instructions or the lesson material, even when they try to. Their mind wanders, and they become easily distracted. When talking with other kids at lunch, the child finds it hard to stay engaged. The child appears inattentive, frequently interrupts, or seems disinterested in what others are saying. After school, the child uses avoidance strategies to delay doing homework, such as “I’ll just finish this level on my video game.” Maybe they lose the permission slip that needed to be signed by a parent. At bedtime, the child may have trouble winding down and falling asleep due to their racing thoughts.
Seeking professional diagnosis and treatment
If you think your child has ADHD, it’s important to seek a professional diagnosis and treatment plan. Paediatricians, child psychologists, and psychiatrists can help to develop a treatment plan for your child. These professionals can assess your child to determine if they have ADHD and develop a personalised treatment plan. Treatment options may include medication, behavioral therapy, attention-training computer programs, or a combination of all three. It’s important to work closely with any healthcare professionals to make sure that your child receives the best possible care and support. Never be afraid to ask questions, ask for examples, or request alternative treatment methods. You know your child best.
Managing ADHD symptoms in kids at home and in school
Once your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important to work with their healthcare team to develop a plan for managing their symptoms both at home and in school. Medication may be prescribed. The issue with only medicating for attentional difficulties is that the student will forever be reliant on the medication in order to pay attention. Generally, experts recommend helping in three ways: environmental modifications, compensatory strategies, and skill building interventions.
- Place the student with ADHD near the front of the classroom to minimise distractions
- Maintain a clutter-free classroom
- Minimise noise, and even provide noise-canceling headphones, or use calming sensory tools like stress balls or fidget toys
- Use non-verbal cues such as gestures and facial expressions
- Pause between parts of instructions and ask the student to repeat back to you what is required of them
- Give directions in a logical, time-ordered sequence. Use words that make the sequence clear (eg. first, next, finally)
- Encourage the student to ask if they haven’t understood
- Use visual cues such as labels, color-coding, and visual schedules to keep them on track and signal a transition to another activity
- Visual aids such as charts and checklists to help them understand and follow instructions
- Visual timers to manage time and promote task completion
- Establish consistent daily routines and schedules to provide predictability
While the above methods can help and certainly have their place, they do not treat the underlying attentional issues present in ADHD. They just work around the issues. Thus, many health professionals now agree that attention training is an important part of intervention for attention difficulties. Engaging students in novel, motivating computer games, with content that requires longer and longer periods of sustained focused attention, and provides positive feedback for correct answers, is the gold standard for training attentional deficits. Using these programs naturally increases attentional neurotransmitters, improving a person’s ability to pay attention for longer periods.
Online learning programs can help improve attention in an easy and fun way. Sonic Learning’s team of health and education professionals has been successfully using proven neuroscience programs (Fast ForWord and Cogmed) since 2004 to improve attention. And younger students from 4 years of age can now access the TALi program.
Builds 4 types of attention in young learners
- Selective attention
- Attentional control
- Sustained focus
Time commitment: 20 mins/day, 5 days/week
Program length: 5 weeks
Suitable for: ages 3 – 7
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Builds critical foundations of learning
- Listening (auditory processing)
- Auditory memory
- Auditory attention
- Following instructions
Suitable for: ages 6 to adult
Time commitment: 30 mins/day, 5 days/week
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Supporting your child with ADHD through communication and understanding
Contact Sonic Learning’s team of health professionals to learn more about their proven neuroscience programs and support your child with ADHD, or use our free online screening assessment tool to find discover you or your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.
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