Does My Child Have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? (Revised)

Confused EmotiguyAs a clinical child psychologist, I often get asked by parents, “Does my child have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?” Usually parents will inquire about ADD or ADHD because they have received complaints from the teachers about their child’s behavior. Similarly, some of the teenagers I work with question whether they have ADHD because they have difficulties concentrating and focusing at school. And parents occasionally wonder the same thing about themselves. That is, parents sometimes see similarities between their child’s attention problems and their own, whether as adults in the workforce or in terms of difficulties they had when they were their child’s age.

It is important to note that while attention, concentration, and focus problems can be an indication of ADD or ADHD, these problems can also occur for many other reasons. For example, attention problems can be caused by or associated with academic problems and learning disabilities, emotional problems including depression and anxiety, problems in the family at home such as parental separation and financial strain, social problems (e.g., bullying), behavioral problems (e.g., oppositional and defiant behaviours), and other developmental problems (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorders, premature birth, etc). Therefore, it is crucial to have a comprehensive and complete evaluation, which includes psychological testing as well as gathering a lot of information from multiple sources (e.g., parents, teachers, and the child or teen themselves), in order to understand the full picture and to make the correct diagnosis of the problem.

Just to clarify, the difference between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder is whether or not the child is hyperactive and has impulse control problems in addition to attention problems. Some children can have both sets of problems whereas others have either problems of inattention or impulsivity/hyperactivity. Today, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, and other mental health professionals will only use the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and they will specify whether it is primarily attention, hyperactivity, or a combined presentation.

ADHDbyDavidCastilloDominicIn order to help you answer the question, “Does my child have ADHD?”, I will outline problems your child may be having. Please note that two children who are suffering from ADHD can present as very different from one another. As a parent, you may have observed several or many of the following symptoms:

Signs of Inattention:

  • has a short attention span; has trouble sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • makes careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do schoolwork or homework
  • is easily distracted
  • does not seem to listen when spoken to
  • is often forgetful
  • loses or misplaces belongings
  • often does not follow through on instructions
  • fails to finish or complete schoolwork or chores
  • has difficulty organizing tasks and activities

  • Signs of Hyperactivity/Impulsivity:

  • often fidgets with hands or feet; squirms in seat
  • often leaves seat in class
  • restless; runs around and climbs excessively in inappropriate situations
  • has trouble playing quietly
  • is always ‘on the go’
  • talks excessively
  • blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  • has trouble waiting his or her turn
  • interrupts others

  • If you are concerned that your child has some or many of these symptoms, then a proper evaluation will help you determine whether your child has ADHD and what are the recommended treatment options. Many parents are concerned that stimulant medication (such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Biphentin, etc) is the only treatment available for ADHD. While medication is one approach to treating this condition that has shown significant beneficial results, there are also therapeutic and behavioral interventions that can make a big difference for your child. Just like each child’s symptoms and difficulties are unique to them, there is no “one size fits all” for managing ADHD. Your child’s psychologist, physician, or mental health professional, in collaboration with you and your child’s teachers, will be able to suggest which treatment approach may be best suited to your child’s particular needs.

    There are also many excellent web resources available on this topic. For more information on ADHD, take a look at Help Guide and Kids Health and NIMH.

    Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I welcome your feedback and inquiries.

    Best wishes,
    Dr. Stephanie

    Additional Resources

    In addition to the web resources suggested above, there are some books for children about ADHD that you may find interesting and helpful as they offer tips on how to manage this problem at school and at home. You and your child may want to check these out!

    We have recently published our newest therapeutic resource for children about ADHD! Co-author and illustrator Elaheh Bos and I are truly hoping our book, entitled Billy Can’t Slow Down!: Story & Tools for managing ADHD will be a useful resource for many children and families dealing with ADHD. Please take a look!! 🙂

    Book TitleAuthorAge RangeDescription
    Billy Can't Slow Down!: Story & Tools for managing ADHD
    Elaheh Bos and Stephanie Margolese, Ph.D.Ages 6 to 10In this new therapeutic resource, parents and children alike will relate to Billy and see his journey as he struggles in school, with friends, and at home, is tested by a psychologist, learns all about having ADHD, and then works with his psychologist, teachers, and parents to apply different helpful strategies at school and at home to better manage his problem.

    As a co-author of this book, I am extremely proud of this resource and I strongly believe it has the potential to help many children suffering from ADHD and their families.
    Learning to Slow Down and Pay AttentionKathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. & Ellen B. Dixon, Ph.D.Ages 6 to 10This highly recommended book is great for teaching children about ADHD and offers practical tips and checklists to help them organize their tasks and daily routines and solve everyday problems.
    Cory Stories: A Kid's Book About Living With ADHD Jeanne Kraus

    With a Note to Parents by Jane Annunziata, Ph.D.
    Ages 6 to 11This fun comic-style book offers a very relatable story about a boy named Cory and the challenges he faces with his ADHD as well as the different ways he overcomes these issues and is able to pay attention, calm down, make friends, and feel good about himself.
    The Survival Guide for Kids with ADHD
    John F. Taylor, Ph.D.Ages 8 to 12This strongly recommended book by Dr. Taylor is fun, engaging, and informative for children with ADHD and their parents. The book explains ADHD and different treatments including medication and also provides kids with many helpful suggestions on how to manage their ADHD, such as improve their organization, deal with strong feelings, choose healthy foods, make and keep friends, succeed at school, and more.

    Image at top left courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.Net
    Image at right courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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