Exactly when a short attention span or a high energy level becomes a psychiatric disorder is often debated. But attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by a number of well-known symptoms, listed below.

A student may remember to bring home school assignments one day, and ignore them completely the next. Because not everyone who is inattentive, impulsive or hyperactive has an attention disorder, practitioners look to see whether some or all of these behaviors have been displayed for more than six months and before 7 years of age to herald a diagnosis of ADHD.

Contrary to popular belief, a child need not be impulsive or hyperactive to be diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, many girls with ADHD have problems with inattention but are not physically disruptive. On the other hand, a person with ADHD may have problems in all three areas. These behaviors must be present in at least two arenas, such as at school and at home, and must interfere with developmentally expected competencies.

Generally, ADHD behaviors are grouped into three categories:

  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyperactivity


Signs of inattentiveness include:

  • difficulty focusing on any one task for long
  • boredom, distractibility and inability to finish activities
  • sloppy mistakes
  • poor listening skills
  • losing or forgetting things like books needed for homework
  • failure to follow instructions accurately and completely


Signs of impulsivity include:

  • often shouts out answers before hearing the entire question
  • interrupts others
  • has trouble waiting turns while playing games or waiting in line


Signs of hyperactivity include:

  • fidgeting, wiggling hands and feet
  • does not stay seated in class, at the dinner table or in other settings where it is normally expected
  • runs or climbs in inappropriate situations
  • noisy, does not play quietly
  • consistently “on the go”
  • motor-mouth