ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but usually lasts far past that. While it’s still ADHD, symptoms can look different in kids versus adults.
Whether you or your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it can affect many aspects of daily life in childhood and adulthood.
Many symptoms involve attention and focus, but the effects of ADHD often go deeper and are more complex than that.
And ADHD doesn’t always look the same from person to person. For instance, you might appear absentminded, while someone else has challenges with organization or procrastination.
Your symptoms can change as you age, too, or you could experience more severe ADHD symptoms on some days.
ADHD symptoms typically show up at an early age, though they can become more noticeable when a child starts school.
The average age of an ADHD diagnosis is
Most adults who are diagnosed with ADHD likely had symptoms from childhood that went unnoticed or misdiagnosed.
ADHD involves a range of symptoms that are often categorized into three main types:
- combined: a combo of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms
Symptoms can change with age as children learn coping skills. Some people may also have fewer or less severe symptoms as they get older, even without formal treatment.
Many people with ADHD have ongoing symptoms related to inattention.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), while males are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD in general, females are more likely to have inattention type.
To be diagnosed with inattention type ADHD, you must experience 6 or more of the following symptoms for 6 months or longer:
- You have a hard time paying close attention to details.
- You find it difficult to stick with or finish a task.
- It’s hard to listen or pay attention (it may seem like your “head is in the clouds”).
- You have trouble following instructions.
- It’s challenging to stay organized or manage your time.
- You often avoid tasks that require a lot of focus or mental effort.
- You lose things frequently.
- You’re easily distracted by your surroundings or thoughts.
- You’re forgetful.
In children, inattention may look like having a hard time focusing on schoolwork and listening to lessons or instructions, or forgetting to do homework.
In adults, inattention can look like trouble finishing work tasks on time, keeping up with bills, or getting organized.
Some people with ADHD have symptoms that center around hyperactivity and impulsivity.
As with inattention symptoms, you must experience at least 6 of these symptoms over a 6-month period for hyperactive-impulsive type:
- You often fidget or have a strong need to keep moving.
- It’s difficult for you to stay seated or sit still, especially when you’re expected to (like in a classroom or workplace setting).
- You’re restless.
- It’s hard to stay quiet in situations where it’s necessary.
- You talk more frequently than others or speak without thinking.
- You find it difficult to wait.
- You have a tendency to interrupt others or find it difficult to take turns in a conversation.
In kids, hyperactivity and impulsivity may look like leaving their seat in the middle of a classroom lecture, or shouting out an answer before being called on.
An adult with these symptoms may find it difficult to sit still during work meetings, interrupt others when they’re speaking, or always appear “on the go” and restless.
ADHD symptoms may be more obvious in children, especially while they’re in school.
Children with ADHD tend to have more problems focusing and may not grow out of this behavior at the same rate as their peers.
Symptoms in kids may look like:
- more frequent daydreaming than their peers
- conflict at school or with friends
- forgetfulness or tendency to lose things
- taking unnecessary risks, like running into the street without first looking
- difficulty playing quietly
- squirming or fidgeting
- having a hard time taking turns or being patient
- running around or climbing in situations that aren’t safe or appropriate
Kids with ADHD are also more likely to have another mental health condition, such as:
- bipolar disorder
- learning disorders
- sleep disorders
- oppositional defiant disorder
- conduct disorder
It could also be more common for kids with ADHD to have a second neurodevelopmental disorder.
When children reach their teen years, some hyperactive and impulsive symptoms may lessen.
Inattention symptoms, on the other hand, are more likely to stick around into adulthood. But many adults with ADHD have found ways to manage and reduce these symptoms, too.
ADHD can appear differently in adults. For example, hyperactivity in a child can present as restlessness in an adult.
Some research suggests the adults with ADHD are more likely to report having a lower quality of life. This was seen in people with hyperactivity and impulsivity, along with more severe symptoms.
ADHD symptoms in adults may look like:
- acting impulsively
- difficulty focusing on work
- trouble staying organized at home or work
- problems following through
- difficulty prioritizing tasks, planning, and managing time
- anger, irritability, or shifts in mood
- trouble multitasking
- difficulty managing stress
While most people are diagnosed as kids, some people with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until adulthood.
Still, ADHD doesn’t start in adulthood. While they may not have been recognized or diagnosed, you’ll have had symptoms as a kid.
Like children, adults with ADHD are also more likely to experience certain mental health conditions. For adults these include:
- personality disorders
- substance use disorders
- anxiety disorders
- intermittent explosive disorder
- learning disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Adults with ADHD may also be more likely to have another neurodevelopmental condition, like autism spectrum disorder.
ADHD symptoms in adults can look like or be mistaken for other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Your doctor will likely ask you to think about symptoms you might have had as a child in order to figure out if it’s ADHD or something else.
Adults living with ADHD
And while some people experience more challenges, other people view their ADHD as a strength. Some adults with ADHD find it makes them more creative or energetic in ways that benefit them throughout their life.
If you recognize ADHD symptoms in either your child or yourself, you can start by reaching out to a doctor or mental health professional for a screening.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can also take our quiz. Just keep in mind that only a licensed healthcare professional can give you a diagnosis, so you’ll still want to reach out.
To receive an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, you must experience symptoms:
- before age 12
- that show up in at least two settings: home, work, school, or other activities
- that aren’t due to other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders or depression
- that can’t be better explained by an underlying health condition such as a thyroid condition
You might talk with one of the following healthcare professionals to get an ADHD diagnosis:
- pediatricians (if your child is getting a diagnosis)
- psychologists or neuropsychologists
- primary care doctors
In some cases, your doctor may start with a blood test to rule out any physical health conditions that may have overlapping symptoms.
Once a diagnosis is made, you can discuss treatment options and coping tools that fit your needs.
One option to consider is medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stimulant medications lessen symptoms in
Behavior therapy can also help some kids learn skills and thrive. Therapy might focus on:
- tools for managing stress
- social skills
- organizational skills
- support for school-related needs
- help with focusing and concentration
You and a healthcare professional can discuss what treatment approaches will be most helpful for you or your child.
If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, many support groups and resources are available to make life a little easier:
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)
- Impact Parents: Helping Parents Help Kids
- ADDitude: Inside the ADHD mind
No matter how old you are when you’re diagnosed, or what symptoms you have, the right resources and treatments can help you manage your symptoms and thrive every day.