The diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is getting thrown around everywhere these days. It’s so common that some parents have become suspicious of the label while others become concerned that every problem their child has may be related to ADHD. But what actually is ADHD and would it be helpful to get a diagnosis for your child?

What is ADHD?

ADHD is more than just attention problems or hyperactivity. It is a mental health diagnosis that  includes a long list of symptoms that occur when children (and adults) have difficulty with executive functioning. Executive functioning is our brain’s ability to plan ahead, sustain attention, organize, and stop certain behaviors.

When your child is arguing for the one hundredth time about taking a shower and you want to yell at them to just do it, but instead you take a deep breath and speak calmly…that is your brain using executive functioning to monitor your behavior. Getting yourself to focus on work, planning out what you need to do today and finishing the dishes when you don’t want to…that is also your brain using executive functioning.

Attention problems are a sign of ADHD but there is more to it.

What are the Symptoms of ADHD?

Here are some other signs of ADHD:

  • Loosing things frequently
  • Difficulty starting tasks (Ex. Needs frequent reminders to do homework or chores)
  • Difficulty completing tasks or following through with instructions (Ex. Completes homework but forgets to turn it in)
  • Makes frequent mistakes on things that they should know
  • Forgets things that they have to do daily
  • Gets easily distracted
  • Fidgets constantly
  • Has difficulty sitting still in sitting is required
  • Seems to be aways on the go
  • Runs or climbs when it is not appropriate to do so
  • Not able to play quietly
  • Blurts out answers to questions
  • Has difficulty waiting turns
  • Does not play quietly but is always making noise

Likely your child has struggled with one or more of these items, even if they do not have ADHD. And very few children will have all of these symptoms. But if your child has many of these symptoms AND it is impacting school, their ability to make friends or making home life very difficult, then they may need additional support.

When Should I Get Help?

If you are looking at this list and your child meets more than 5 of these regularly or a specific symptom is causing significant concern, then getting an evaluation from your pediatrician or a qualified mental health professional may be helpful. Without a professional evaluation, it is difficult to know for sure if your child meets criteria. This is because there are a few other factors involved. For example, other things can look like ADHD…like past trauma, anxiety, difficulty transitioning between homes or learning difficulties.

Is Getting a Diagnosis Important?

Getting a professional diagnosis may be helpful for you to know how to better support your child and to give you a road map of what to do next. A diagnosis can help you advocate for accommodations at school, discuss treatment with your pediatrician or know how to better structure your child’s time at home.

For more information on ADHD, you can search other blog posts in this series or download my ADHD field guide.

Melissa Winfield, PsyD
Melissa Winfield, PsyD

I help children, teenagers and parents find hope and resilience through the tough times.