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ADHD in Kids: Symptoms, Testing & Treatment

ADHD in Kids: Symptoms, Testing & Treatment

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a widespread neurobehavioral condition marked by persistent issues with executive functioning skills, including brain activities that control attention, memory, organization, motivation, impulsivity, hyperactivity, time management, social skills, and other functions.

These problems begin in childhood and can last a person’s entire life, resulting in unstable relationships, poor school or work performance, low self-esteem, and other concerns.

Once referred to as ADD, the American Psychological Association (APA) dropped the name ADD in 1987.1 Today, there are three subtypes of ADHD2 in children. These depend on which symptoms are the most prominent and are as follows:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It’s difficult for the child to plan or complete a task, pay attention to details, or follow directions or dialogues. The child is easily sidetracked and forgets details.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The child fidgets and talks a lot. It’s difficult to sit still for a long time, and smaller children may continually run, jump, or climb. The child is restless and has issues with impulsivity. Impulsive children frequently interrupt others, seize objects from others, and speak at inappropriate moments. It is difficult for the child to wait their turn or follow directions.
  • Combined Presentation: The child exhibits symptoms from both of the above.

Approximately 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a national 2016 parent survey. In addition, at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral issue was present in 6 out of 10 children with ADHD.3

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Symptoms of ADHD in Kids

ADHD symptoms in kids frequently appear before the age of six.4 ADHD symptoms in kids can range from mild to severe, and they can last into adulthood. Boys are more likely than girls to have ADHD, and signs of ADHD in children can differ between boys and girls.5

A child with ADHD may exhibit signs of both inattention and hyperactivity and impulsivity, or they may display only one of these subtypes.

The following are the main ADHD symptoms in kids who present with inattentiveness:

  • Short attention span
  • Easily distracted
  • Makes careless mistakes – for example, in homework
  • Unable to stick to tedious or time-consuming tasks
  • Inability to listen or carry out instructions
  • Constantly changes activity or task
  • Difficulty organizing tasks

The following are the main ADHD symptoms in kids who present with hyperactivity and impulsivity:

  • Unable to sit still
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Unable to concentrate on tasks
  • Excessive physical movement
  • Excessive talking
  • Unable to wait their turn
  • Acts without thinking
  • Interrupts conversations
  • Little to zero sense of danger

Get In Contact With Us!

Athena Care is in-network with most major insurance plans. Filling out our free and confidential online insurance verification form is the quickest and easiest method to determine if insurance covers ADHD treatment and testing in children.  

A care coordinator will review your policy and thoroughly explain your options after you’ve completed the form. Rest assured, all submitted or discussed information is kept confidential.  

Causes & Risk Factors of ADHD in Children

Scientists are studying the causes and risk factors of ADHD to better treat and reduce the likelihood of someone developing the disorder. Although the cause(s) and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, recent research suggests that genetics have a significant impact.6

Aside from genetics, scientists are researching other probable causes and risk factors, like:

  • Accidental brain damage
  • Environmental threats (such as lead exposure)
  • Tobacco and alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Premature childbirth
  • Low birthweight

ADHD is not caused by consuming too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental issues, including poverty or family dysfunction. Of course, many things, including the above, might intensify ADHD symptoms in kids. However, there is insufficient evidence to infer that they are the primary causes of ADHD.

How To Tell If Your Child Has ADHD?

If your child is at least four years old and presenting signs of ADHD in kids, including problems with paying attention, focus, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination, the first step should be an appointment with your child’s primary care physician. Many specialists can diagnose ADHD in children, though it’s important to seek ADHD doctors specifically trained in the disorder.

Unfortunately, no specific ADHD testing can diagnose ADHD. An ADHD diagnosis is clinical, based on the results of the history, physical examination, and patient/family interviews. The following are some of the well-known diagnostic techniques for assessing ADHD:

  • An interview with the parent and the child (to rule out other psychiatric or environmental causes of signs of ADHD in children).
  • A medical examination includes a thorough medical history and a physical exam (to check for coexisting conditions). Oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, and learning difficulties are common coexisting psychiatric and developmental disorders in children diagnosed with ADHD.7
  • An electroencephalogram (EEG) or a neurological consult if focused signs or clinical findings point to a seizure disorder or a degenerative neurological condition.

Furthermore, the Vanderbilt and Conners tests are two ADHD rating systems that have been studied and proven to be reliable.8 They can be beneficial in making diagnoses and tracking a child’s progress over time. These assessments include questions that aid in detecting emotional, behavioral, and academic issues. The multiple-choice questions range from “How often does your child have difficulties sleeping at night?” to “How difficult is it for your child to concentrate on a homework assignment?”

Treatment & Outlook for ADHD in Kids

In most circumstances, behavioral therapy treatment and medication management are the most effective when treating ADHD in children. Therefore, behavioral therapy, particularly parent training, is suggested as the first line of treatment for children ages 4-5 with ADHD before considering medication.

The most well-studied and widely prescribed treatments for ADHD are psychostimulant drugs like methylphenidate and other amphetamines. After medication administration, patients should be thoroughly observed, and medicine should be taken consistently. Then, the doctor can check to see if the patient is receiving the correct dose. The side effects usually subside after a few weeks on the medication. Alternatively, the doctor may reduce the prescribed dosage to combat adverse effects.

The following are typical medications prescribed for ADHD treatment:

  • Stimulants9
    • Stimulant medications, like Adderall or Ritalin, are commonly used to treat ADHD. These medications work for people of all ages to alleviate symptoms. Behavioral changes are usually rapid and significant.
  • Non-Stimulants10
    • If stimulant medications cause unpleasant side effects or are ineffective, a doctor may prescribe a non-stimulant medication, like Strattera. These can be taken on their own or in combination with stimulants.
  • Complementary or Alternative Medicines
    • Some therapists and other health professionals employ complementary or alternative medicines, like acupuncture and art therapy.

ADHD can be lifelong, even if some symptoms diminish with age. Some persons with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until they become adults.11 Untreated ADHD has multiple adverse effects, including but not limited to:

  • Underachievement in school and at work
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Substance use disorders
  • Employment issues
  • Increased rates of divorce
  • Increased rates of depression and anxiety

Researchers discovered the following in a study that followed adolescents diagnosed with ADHD into adulthood:12

  • 29% of those adults diagnosed with ADHD as children still showed symptoms.
  • 81% of adults with ADHD have at least one other psychiatric disorder.
  • Substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression were among the most common co-occurring conditions identified in adults.

There are many effective treatments and ways to manage ADHD. If employed, it’s perfectly possible to lead a normal, healthy life with ADHD.

A care coordinator at one of our three mental health clinics in Tennessee can assist you with any further questions and concerns about managing your or your child’s ADHD.


  1. “Identifying and Treating the Seven Types of ADD/ADHD.” Optimized360 LLC, 2019, https://familypsychnj.com/2019/01/identifying-and-treating-the-seven-types-of-add-adhd/
  2. “What is ADHD?” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html#Types
  3. “Data and Statistics about ADHD.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
  4. “Symptoms.” Crown NHS UK, 2021, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/
  5. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889
  6. Grimm, Oliver et al. “Genetics of ADHD: What Should the Clinician Know?.” Current psychiatry reports vol. 22,4 18. 27 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1007/s11920-020-1141-x
  7. “Other Concerns and Conditions with ADHD.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022,  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/conditions.html
  8. McCarthy, Cathy MD. “Think your child has ADHD? What your pediatrician can — and should — do.” The President and Fellows of Harvard College for Harvard Health Publishing, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/think-your-child-has-adhd-what-your-pediatrician-can-and-should-do-2019111518296
  9. “Medicines for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).” BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc., 2022, https://www.healthwise.net/bcbst/Content/StdDocument.aspx?DOCHWID=pl1029#pl1030
  10. “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc., 2022, https://www.healthwise.net/bcbst/Content/StdDocument.aspx?DOCHWID=hw166083#hw166085
  11. Fields, Lisa. “Risks of Untreated ADHD.” Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD, 2021 for WebMD LLC, https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/risks-of-untreated-adhd
  12. William J. Barbaresi, Robert C. Colligan, Amy L. Weaver, Robert G. Voigt, Jill M. Killian, Slavica K. Katusic; Mortality, ADHD, and Psychosocial Adversity in Adults With Childhood ADHD: A Prospective Study. Pediatrics April 2013; 131 (4): 637–644. 10.1542/peds.2012-2354 https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/131/4/637/31872/Mortality-ADHD-and-Psychosocial-Adversity-in?redirectedFrom=fulltext

If you or someone you love would benefit from talking to a mental health provider in Tennessee, contact Athena Care.

One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.