Recognizing ADHD in Elementary Age Children: Common Signs, and when to ask for Help

Every child has instances of hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is not uncommon for a child to become distracted by an electronic device, get frustrated with homework, or grow restless.  These are all typical examples of childhood development. How can a parent know the difference between typical behavior and a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines ADHD as a health condition involving deficits in impulse control, planning, problem solving, and interpreting social interactions. The diagnosis of ADHD frequently occurs during elementary school and symptoms may carry over into adulthood. Because of its lifelong impacts, it is important to recognize ADHD early in a child’s development. 

Wondering if your child has ADHD? Does your child exhibit the following symptoms?

Pervasive Impulsivity

While children are still learning to control their impulses, a child with ADHD has difficulty taking the time to think about the consequences of their actions.  They may get angry and immediately kick a chair, grab candy off a store shelf without thinking it’s stealing, or wonder what would happen if they threw the baseball in their hand and damage property or hurt someone.  A child with ADHD may also interrupt or invade the personal space of others, experience extreme frustration waiting their turn during a conversation, or find standing in line at school so challenging that they cut to the front of the line or become disruptive.  There is no negative intent, rather they simply have difficulty controlling their impulses.

Driven to Distraction

Individuals with ADHD are comfortable spending long periods of time engaging in their preferred activities like playing video games, building legos, or drawing.  In contrast, paying attention to a subject matter that is less interesting or that requires strong mental focus, is a tough task for a child with ADHD. They may avoid more challenging tasks, daydream, or become distracted by little things like their peeling nail polish or a doodle on a piece of paper. Completing homework efficiently or in one sitting can be a daily hurdle. They may find the eraser on their pencil more interesting than their math problem.  In addition, tasks may be left incomplete due to distraction. For instance, a child with ADHD may forget to finish loading the dishwasher because they notice a Star Wars decal on one of the cups, so instead of unloading the dishwasher, they end up watching a Star Wars video on YouTube.

Restlessness

Sitting still for a prolonged period of time can be almost impossible. While other children sit quietly in class, children with ADHD may suddenly feel like standing up or bouncing up and down in their seats. They may feel more at ease in motion than sitting in a chair. They may fidget constantly, perhaps tapping their fingers or twirling their hair. Remaining in one position, and in one place, for a long period of time can feel very restrictive for them.  At home, you may find that during dinner they finish their meal quickly because they have trouble staying seated and not leaving the table.

Forgetfulness

Children with ADHD may regularly forget items that are required to complete daily routines like brushing their teeth, bringing their lunch box to school, or organizing their sports equipment for afterschool activities.  They may finish their homework but leave it at home instead of handing it in the next day. This forgetfulness may lead to difficulty getting organized enough to complete projects, consistently completing and handing in schoolwork, or maintaining a schedule for afterschool activities.

Additional Considerations

Even if a child displays one or more of the above descriptions, they may still not fit the requirements to be diagnosed with ADHD. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) the symptoms of ADHD need to cause impairment in at least two areas of the child’s life. For instance, a child who only exhibits the above symptoms in school, and nowhere else, would most likely not fit the diagnosis. This may indicate an environmental challenge occurring at school rather than a symptom stemming from ADHD.  In addition, symptoms for ADHD may present themselves differently in girls. Although girls may exhibit impulsivity less than boys, they may display more forgetfulness and inattention.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Westchester Child Therapy here.