Understanding ADHD: The Difference Between ADHD and Typical Childhood Behavior

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Learn more about the symptoms that characterize Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder

Childhood is full of distractions, daydreams, physical activity, and hard-learned lessons about making appropriate decisions. Some children are more responsible than others and may seem more capable as a result, and others engage in an ongoing battle with staying on track to accomplish even a simple series of tasks. It can be difficult, and frankly, frustrating to watch your child struggle through everyday activities.

The wide range of normal behavior between children paired with their natural propensity for forgetfulness, impulsivity, and fidgeting can make it difficult to assess whether your child’s actions are a typical stage of childhood or indicative of an issue that may require treatment.

Many parents have doubts about the veracity of an ADHD diagnosis or fears about the possibility of medicating their child. However, refusing to acknowledge an issue doesn’t make it disappear – in fact, avoiding treatment or failing to understand the challenges your child is facing can have a negative long-term impact on their well-being.

What is ADHD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with a child’s ability to function or develop.

ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis; symptoms vary between individuals, and ADHD can present itself in many forms. Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the three main components. Assess your child’s behavior with the following checklist:

Inattention

  • Does your child have difficulty staying on task?
  • Do they lack the persistence necessary to see a task to completion?
  • Do they have trouble retaining focus?
  • Are they frequently disorganized?
  • Do they have difficulty following instructions or listening?
  • Do they make careless mistakes, lose important items, or overlook details often?

Hyperactivity

  • Does your child have a need to move around constantly, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the situation?
  • Do they fidget, tap, or talk excessively?
  • Are they restless or need to be continuously engaged in activity?
  • Do they have difficulty remaining seated when it’s expected?
  • Do they climb, run, or dash around in situations where that’s not appropriate?
  • Are they unable to play quietly?

Impulsivity

  • Does your child make hasty or high-risk decisions?
  • Do they have an inability to delay gratification or an expectation of an immediate reward?
  • Do they interrupt conversations, other children playing, or act socially intrusive?
  • Do they have trouble waiting their turn?
  • Do they finish people’s sentences, blurt out answers before a question is completed, or speak out of turn?

Some children don’t have the hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, which makes many parents reject the idea that their child may have ADHD. Also, many of the symptoms listed above are normal for people who are inexperienced with life and social situations, as children are. It becomes a concern if those issues are more severe, occurs more often, or interferes with a child’s ability to socialize or perform at school or in other activities.

ADHD diagnosis

Symptoms of ADHD are often mischaracterized as behavioral problems, leading to a delay in diagnosis. This is unfortunate because when the symptoms are misunderstood and remain untreated, the child’s self-esteem and confidence can suffer. Eventually, a delay can cause a child to fall behind the typical developmental trajectory of their peers.

ADHD symptoms can appear as early as age three but are more commonly noticed when a child becomes school-aged, due to their difficulties with staying on task or performing at the level of their peers.

If you have concerns about your child, the first step is to speak with your pediatrician. The doctor knows and understands typical child development at different age ranges, can assess whether another medical or psychiatric condition might be to blame, and has the ability to perform a comprehensive evaluation, perhaps referring you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Finding out that your child has ADHD is a difficult situation to come to terms with but being proactive in obtaining a diagnosis can offer a lifetime of benefits. Whether you use medication, behavioral therapy, extra support at school, exercise, proper nutrition, or a combination of some or all of the above, many options are effective at mitigating the symptoms of ADHD. Help is available.

You are your child’s primary advocate; show your love by providing them with the tools and personal understanding necessary for them to thrive.

At Learning Lab, we support children who are smart but struggle in a traditional school setting. Our personalized approach for each child teaches the way that they learn and paves the way for a collaborative educational experience between learners, their families, and school communities. Find out how we can help your child.

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