- What’s the difference between ADHD and ADD?
- What are the ADD signs in a child?
- How do I get my child tested for ADD?
- How do you recognise girls with ADD symptoms?
- What are the ways I can support my child with ADD signs?
- What are the benefits of having ADHD characteristics?
Whilst ADHD is a lifelong condition that can affect anyone of any age, symptoms typically present the most in children. While many ADD children are diagnosed at the right time (usually between the ages of 6 and 12), others go under the radar. In this article we talk you through the main ADHD characteristics, the signs to look for and how to support your child through challenging phases.
👉🏼 What’s the difference between ADHD and ADD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition or syndrome that affects people's behaviour. People with ADHD characteristics can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.
What looks on the surface like a behavioural disorder, is actually a neurological condition, and not caused by any underlying physical or mental disabilities.
It affects both the structure and function of the brain. Research has found that areas of the brain are actually smaller in people with ADHD. It affects the frontal lobe, where impulse control, inhibition and concentration are regulated. Brain development is also slower in those with ADHD; neural pathways don’t connect and mature in the same way or at the same rate.👎🏼
This can impair executive function, like organisation and routine tasks. People with ADHD characteristics may have their dopamine-levels affected, which can disorder sleep and learning. ADHD can be tricky to diagnose, and challenging to manage. But there are treatments that can help.
At its core, ADHD is defined by three main symptoms:
- Inattention - the tendency to become easily distracted
- Hyperactivity - an abundance of physical energy
- Impulsivity - acting without regard for consequences
We’ll come back to these symptoms a little later on, and we’ll clarify what signs to look for in ADD children that might be presenting them.
You may have heard of two terms being interchangeable. ✌🏼 That’s because up until about 1987, ADHD was simply ADD (attention deficit disorder) when ‘hyperactivity’ was added in to reflect growing medical information and knowledge.
This made the term a lot more accurate and all-encompassing because of the highly common hyperactivity symptom, especially in children. It’s much rarer to diagnose children with ADD or ADHD as separate terms, and instead the latter is now usually used for both.
To keep up with medicine today we’ll use both in this article, as the signs and symptoms are predominantly the same. Some parents are concerned about the addition of ‘hyperactivity’ because of it’s associations, but rest assured that both terms are really the same thing.
Read on as we explore these signs a bit further.
👉🏼 What are the ADD signs in a child?
So what does inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity actually look like on a day to day basis in children? Let’s take each of these in turn:
🙄 Inattention is one of the defining ADHD characteristics Quite often ADD children who are being inattentive will repeatedly make careless mistakes, and may fail to pay attention. Is your child being told off a lot at school, and isn’t really sure why? Are they not able to process their decisions and make better choices the next time? This is a big indicator of inattention.
If a child becomes easily bored, they may lose focus and become inattentive. This can lead to them looking like they aren’t even listening at all, which is frustrating for teachers. Activities become dull and long, and children with ADHD characteristics struggle to focus for long durations of time, and basic things to remember are easily forgotten.
They also might not complete tasks altogether, and this ‘failure to follow through’ can lead to further issues at school and at home. Not being able to organise themselves, or participate in tasks which require a lot of mental exertion (because it’s all too much) can isolate them from their peers.
🚀 Hyperactivity on the other hand, means children may generally have problems sitting still. Typically they fidget, and might be told to stay still or sit down by their peers or their school. Due to having excess energy, this is often challenging and even intolerable. If the expectation is to remain seated (like in school) this is even more difficult.
Kids with ADHD and presenting symptoms of hyperactivity might also want to continuously run around or climb, and might find it difficult playing a board game that requires lots of patience. They are also likely to be quite talkative!
🤸🏼♀️ Impulsivity is a defining feature of ADHD that refers to acting without regard for consequences, or at least not thinking about them until it’s too late. A child with ADHD who’s being impulsive might answer over another child, or shout out in class. If they have trouble taking turns, this can cause them to shout out in class.
By interrupting the conversations or activities of others, kids can become isolated for being deemed ‘annoying’ by their peers or teachers. In large groups like classrooms, they can become hard to manage and identified as being troublemakers for not meeting expectations.
👉🏼 How do I get my child tested for ADD?
Knowing, recording and tracking the symptoms regularly is the first step to a proper diagnosis, so that you and your family can get to know the tools and solutions. 🚀 This could also help your child to receive extenuating circumstances in exams later down the line.
A diagnosis of ADHD occurs through a comprehensive evaluation (tests and a series of interviews) of your child through either a psychiatrist, a Doctor or paediatrician or a psychologist. Sometimes this might start through your child’s school, but whether it’s through their teachers or not, you’ll always have to go through your GP.
When you book an appointment to see them, they’ll ask you about the symptoms and when they started, where they occur and how they affect your child’s everyday life. They will also ask whether there is a family history of ADHD (it’s often genetic, so this can increase the chance of an accurate diagnosis).
To be diagnosed, your child needs to have displayed symptoms for at least six months and in more than one place (for example home and school), and the symptoms need to be making their lives consistently very difficult, rather than just for a period of time.
👉🏼 How do you recognise girls with ADD symptoms?
ADHD has sometimes been incorrectly labelled as a male issue because of the numbers of males diagnosed (about 2:1 on record). Due to the notion that hyperactivity is a male issue, females are often left under the radar.
Characteristics in females may just present slightly differently, and in males hyperactivity may be misdiagnosed, meaning more females than we think might be missing a key diagnosis and too many males have one. Instead, females are sometimes diagnosed with other psychiatric illnesses like anxiety or mood disorders.
In addition to lots of the same symptoms as males, females may present their ADHD through daydreaming, laziness, being shy, hyper-talkative or having trouble maintaining friendships. It can be much more difficult for females to be diagnosed, because of the negative associations with being weak, difficult or lazy.
Parents may play down the girls’ hyperactive symptoms, but play up those of the boys. With the right understanding of each behaviour, a correct diagnosis in girls can completely alter their understanding of how their brain is working.
👉🏼 What are the ways I can support my child with ADD signs?
As a parent, it’s important to remember that your child’s ADHD brain is neurodiverse, and can lead to a pretty scattered-feeling brain. It’s a recognised mental health condition, so requires a careful tailoring of approaches:
💡 When children with ADHD characteristics can’t self-regulate through routines or tasks (this is something like 30% less than their neuro-normative peers), they’re going to need your help. They know what to do, but may struggle to execute it! Consistent rewards (that feel like rewards for them) and feedback go a long way. ⭐
💡 Children with ADHD may be incredibly bright, but not consistently. Some days they’ll be totally self-sufficient, and others they’ll need nudges every step of the way. This can be mislabelled as being lazy or forgetful. It’s up to you to provide cues (visual, non-verbal or verbal) to prompt them to do the right thing.
💡 Children with ADHD need lots of proper sleep to be able to recover and reset from their busy working minds. Their brain is processing information differently, so sleep strategies need to be put in place. Supporting your child to eat right, get into a routine, reduce screen time before bed and look after their bodies is really important.
💡 Video game research like this one from the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences have found that intervention through games (with tangible reward loops) can help ADHD symptoms. 84% of treatment sessions were completed and significant improvements were made on a computerised task for the most highly severe subgroup. Spatial working memory also improved!
💡 For older or more mature children, sitting down together to watch a TED talk like this one by Jessica McCabe can help to contextualise their experience from someone who has gone through it first hand.
💡 National support groups like The UK ADHD Partnership and ADHD foundation provide a lot of reading materials as well as ready made support networks. There is strength in numbers!
What about what not to say to a child with ADHD? Children with ADHD can have trouble maintaining control of their emotions, and can mature later than their peers of the same age:
🚩 Never call a child with ADHD characteristics ‘stupid’. Language is received in a much more intense fashion than children who are neurotypical. If you lose control, so will they!
🚩 If your child hasn’t completed a task, remember to be inclusive rather than demanding. Turn ‘go and brush your teeth!’ to ‘we are brushing our teeth now!’.
🚩 Avoid conditional language after positive praise, hearing ‘I love you but…’ negates the original compassionate intention altogether.
🚩 Don’t ask a child with ADHD ‘why can’t you…’ be or do something. You and them already know the answer. Children with ADHD have diminished executive functioning, so don’t expect them to answer you in a reflective way.
🚩 If all else fails, pause and count to three. Take a moment to quell your own fear and discomfort before saying something hurtful in a moment of panic!
If and when you mess up, an apology and a calm talk goes a long way with your child with ADHD when everyone is feeling ready. 👍🏼
Medication is another route, but must always be carefully considered. An example of a medication used to treat ADHD is dopamine, which plays a big role in how we think, feel or plan. It can aid the receptors in your brain. Remember it’ll be up to a medical expert to decide if that’s the right path for your child, and shouldn’t be rushed into.
Regularly visiting a psychologist or counsellor is another helpful treatment. Treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and behavioural therapy can aid increasing feelings of self-control, self-esteem and help improve behaviour. Ultimately regular sessions like this can really help a young person feel more in control.
At GoStudent we support ADD children with a range of developmental and learning needs, including ADD and ADHD. We tailor our tutoring for them to make the greatest progress.
👉🏼 What are the benefits of having ADHD characteristics?
It’s not all challenges with ADHD! With the right education, care and specialist teaching, children with ADHD can thrive as well as cope. It’s all about having the right tools for success. 👍🏼 Plenty of medical research focuses on these positive aspects as well as the drawbacks. Here are just a few to name:
🌏 Sometimes inattention and restlessness can actually turn into hyperfocus, the ability to focus on one thing for hours on end (this is sometimes called fixation). This drive and passion has led celebrities with ADHD like Michael Phelps to become experts at their skills.
🌏 Because of its challenges, ADHD can build a lot of resilience in children and teenagers. Having to constantly prove that they’re listening and capable? Always being told they are difficult? Children with ADHD can push past setbacks.
🌏 Children with ADHD are often generous, willing to prove themselves and respond positively to praise and recognition from adults and others.
🌏 Acting on impulse does wonders for spontaneity. Those with ADHD are likely to want to try new things without fear. Singer Solange Knowles said that her ADHD allows her to make exciting and creative choices in her music career.
Remember that the name itself is deceiving, and what is viewed as a disorder by most is actually just a difference in cognition for those to regognise how to manage it.
Our final advice? 😊 Give children with ADHD tasks that they can handle (focusing on ability, not motivation), take a step back and let them handle it (don’t be uptight and expect them to fail!), let consequences do the talking and if it fails, try again. Children (and especially those with ADHD) will feel more motivated to have another go knowing that you trust them.
With children and ADHD, we as adults need to think ahead. 👍🏼 Looking out for your child’s individual triggers or moments can help your routines and structures ahead of time. Reminders, correction and redirection are key, but balanced with making sure they don’t feel defeated. This is the key to managing their ADHD in the long run.