Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically shows up during childhood. However, it’s not uncommon for parents and even health-care professionals to confuse the symptoms of ADHD with normal displays of energetic behavior. Here are some ways to tell if your child has ADHD or is just energetic.
High Energy Is Normal for Many Kids
All children are energetic at times. They run around, make noise, have tons of questions—that’s just kids being kids. They may be fidgety or even anxious at times, displaying nervous habits for comfort. For example, there’s a link between fidgets like hair-twirling and thumb-sucking. However, the key difference between a child who is energetic and a child who may have ADHD lies in the consistency and impact of their behavior.
A Persistent Pattern
Children with ADHD display persistent patterns of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, which are inconsistent with their developmental level. These patterns may even negatively impact their quality of life. They may have difficulty focusing on one task for a sustained period, following instructions, or acting without thinking, even to the point of endangering themselves.
Reaction to Different Environments
Another major difference between a child with ADHD and one who is energetic is that an energetic child will likely calm down after a period of activity or excitement. In contrast, a child with ADHD remains excessively active, impulsive, or inattentive, regardless of the place or situation.
Some Kids With ADHD Don’t Seem Hyperactive
You should also know that ADHD is not solely about hyperactivity. It can manifest as the inattentive subtype, where the child shows signs of disorganization and a consistent inability to focus rather than hyperactivity.
ADHD isn’t one-size-fits-all. In fact, there are three distinct types of ADHD that display different combinations of symptoms. Here are the three types.
Predominantly Inattentive ADHD
Predominantly Inattentive ADHD involves difficulty paying attention and staying focused on tasks, as well as being forgetful and disorganized. Girls are more likely to display the inattentive version of ADHD, which may be one reason why doctors tend to diagnose girls later in life than boys.
Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
The predominantly hyperactive-impulsive form of ADHD includes excessive physical activity, difficulty controlling impulses, and acting without thinking.
Finally, combined ADHD, which is the most common type, is where children experience both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Children with combined ADHD have a mix of symptoms from both types.
Because each type has its own set of symptoms and presentation, it can be hard to determine if your child has ADHD on your own. You must seek professional guidance if you suspect your child may have ADHD. If an energetic child has a high activity level but doesn’t struggle with attention span or impulsivity, can complete tasks when asked, and is usually able to regulate their impulses in response to a change in environment, they likely don’t have ADHD. However, only a trained professional can make a diagnosis, so if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, consult your pediatrician and ask for a referral to a specialist.