By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 27 May 2008)
According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 3-5% of all children, or at least 1 in every classroom of 25-30 students, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Canadian Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Resource Alliance estimates the incidence even higher at 5% to 12% of school-aged children (3% to 4% of girls and 8% to 12% of boys). Although many normal children show some of the symptoms of ADHD some of the time, among children with ADHD, these symptoms are extreme and continuous.
Those with ADHD are unable to sit still and as a result, they may be disruptive in the classroom. While many children are exuberant and energetic, the ADHD child stands out because he or she is far more hyperactive than other children of the same age.
Hyperactive children with ADHD run around, talk incessantly, jump from activity to activity, fidget and squirm, and suffer from a continuous state of internal restlessness. Many engage in several activities simultaneously, and this tendency is maintained into the teenage years and even adulthood.
Children with ADHD lack self-control. Their poor control of impulses is more pronounced than that of other children. This impulsivity not only creates problems in the classroom but may make it difficult for the child to maintain healthy social relationships.
Impulsive children blurt things out without thinking, offending or hurting the feelings of others without meaning to. They fail to restrain their emotional responses and may take serious risks because they don’t stop to contemplate the potential consequences of their actions. Grabbing, hitting, shouting, interrupting, and other problematic behaviours may occur as a result of poor impulse control. Such children have great difficulty delaying gratification and waiting for their turn in games, line-ups and other situations.
Children with ADHD are prone to distractibility and daydreaming. They have trouble concentrating, and this can adversely affect their performance in school. Although many children with ADHD are highly intelligent or even gifted, they perform well below their abilities in the classroom.
Children with ADHD characterized by inattention may not necessarily be hyperactive or impulsive, but they are inclined to become bored more quickly than their peers of the same age, and this makes task completion and learning new things difficult.
Inattention creates organizational difficulties. ADHD children fail to write things down such as homework assignments. They forget and lose things frequently, or they bring the wrong items to or from school.
Children with ADHD miss details and rush through things, often making careless mistakes as a result. They have difficulty following directions. Many appear “spaced out” or confused.
Sights and sounds can be particularly distracting for these children, and new things capture their attention easily. As a result, they may leave activities unfinished and follow conversational and thought tangents compulsively, with extreme difficulty in maintaining focus on one thing for any length of time.
Inattentive children may not appear to have ADHD because not all of them are hyperactive and impulsive. Children with ADHD who have inattention but not hyperactivity or impulsivity tend to have better relationships with their peers and teachers, and are less likely to cause discipline problems at school or in the home. The form of ADHD that involves only inattention may not be as obvious, but it can still have devastating effects on academic performance.
Not all symptoms of ADHD are negative. The disorder brings with it boundless enthusiasm and a remarkable level of energy. This surplus energy can bring health benefits and athletic achievements when it is channelled into healthy exercise. It can also be channelled into positive helping behaviours.
Additionally, ADHD children have the capability of going into hyperfocus, a state of intense focus and concentration on something of particular interest to them. While hyperfocus can be problematic in that the child is oblivious to his or her surroundings and may forget to do other required tasks, when it is channelled into useful activities, it can be a remarkable force for productivity and achievement.
Normal versus ADHD
There is a broad spectrum of childhood behaviours that are considered normal. Most children show some of the symptoms of ADHD some of the time without actually having ADHD. The key to diagnosis is that children with ADHD display these traits to a far greater degree than other children their age. These behaviours persist over time and occur continuously rather than only in response to specific stressful situations and the symptoms are severe enough to impair academic performance, peer relationships, or both.
Parents who suspect that their child has ADHD should consult a professional who works with many different children and thus knows what “average” looks like. This professional can provide an objective assessment of the child’s behaviour.
For more information about ADHD, including causes, treatments, and related conditions, see the main ADHD page.
- Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance. (n.d.). “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Caddra.ca.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). “Symptoms of ADHD.” Cdc.gov.
- Flippin,R. (2008). “ADHD Symptom: Hyperfocus.” ADDITUDE: Living Well with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Additudemag.com.
- National Institutes of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Nimh.Nih.gov.
- Silver, L., MD. (2007). “Diagnosing Related Conditions in ADHD Children and Adults.” ADDITUDE: Living Well with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Additudemag.com.