Attention issues and ADHD can look different from child to child. Some children have problems paying attention. Others are hyperactive or impulsive. And some children have a combination of both types of symptoms. These red flags are some of the ways families notice attention difficulties.
Note: This list is not meant to be comprehensive, nor should it take the place of diagnosis from a qualified professional. It is intended as a starting point for families to use in a conversation with your provider.
Trouble Paying Attention
Children with attention issues or ADHD may struggle to pay attention – even to things they enjoy. This can look like not listening, jumping from one activity to the next, missing important details, being distracted by other things in the room or daydreaming.
When most families think about attention issues, the first thing that comes to mind are usually problems with paying attention. But the opposite can also be true. Many children struggle with extremes that range from not paying enough attention to paying too much attention (hyperfocus).
Hyperfocus is also common with gifted children.
Difficulty with Organization and Follow-Through
Organizing tasks and following through on activities are also difficult for children with attention issues or ADHD. This can show up as difficulty prioritizing and completing school work - or even getting started on school work in the first place. Younger children may have problems completing simple chores, like placing toys in a basket.
Losing and Forgetting Things
Children with attention issues or ADHD can sometimes struggle to keep track of important items or information.
Trouble Sitting in One Place
While sitting still is a skill that develops over time, children with attention issues or ADHD may develop more slowly than their same-age peers. These children may fidget or squirm, leave their seats at unexpected times, or run/climb when quieter activities are expected.
Children with sensory differences may also fidget, squirm or move in unexpected ways.
Talking Too Much, Interrupting and Blurting Out Answers
Children with attention issues or ADHD may talk excessively, interrupt or blurt out answers before hearing the whole question. These children often struggle to wait for their turns in a conversation and may not understand social cues.
Children with attention issues or ADHD are sometimes described as “on the go” or appearing like they are “driven by a motor.” This energy often appears in all aspects of the child’s life, including play and leisure activities.
Emotional Dysregulation or Mood Swings
Children with attention issues or ADHD often struggle to process their emotions completely and may react with outbursts or mood swings. This type of concern may be more apparent in adolescents since many young children still need time to develop emotion regulation skills.
About 80% of people who are diagnosed with ADHD receive some other form of mental health diagnosis during their lives. The most common co-occurring diagnoses are learning disabilities like dyslexia, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, sensory differences and oppositional defiant disorder.
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