How to Tell if Your Child has ADD

April 9, 2014



by Dr. Heidi Moawad, MD

If you are a parent of a young child, you may have wondered whether your child has attention deficit disorder, ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. Other parents, relatives, babysitters, teachers and coaches often casually mention these terms when discussing children. Many normal children display some of the characteristics of either ADD or ADHD, but do not actually have either disorder. A mislabeled child will be at a disadvantage, while children who actually have ADD or ADHD generally do better with early diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, if you are concerned, it is important to accurately evaluate your child.
What are ADD and ADHD? ADD is characterized by inattention, while ADHD is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Children with ADHD often get into trouble due to the hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, while ADD is more likely to be ignored because it does not cause as many behavioral problems. Boys are more likely to have ADHD and girls are more likely to have ADD, but these are not hard and fast rules.

Parents become concerned based on some common triggers, including:

“My child is extremely smart and could do better, he must have ADD. If he is given proper attention, I’m sure he will shine. “
“A friend or relative who does not have children thinks my daughter is abnormally active.”
“My older child was much calmer.”
“My daughter doesn’t sit still, and I am exhausted.”
“My son never finishes what he starts. He gets bored once puzzles become challenging.”
“I think my spouse (or myself) has undiagnosed ADHD.”
“The teacher says my daughter keeps interrupting and does not wait her turn.”

Any of these situations may or may not be an indication that your child has ADD or ADHD. It is important to discuss the issue with your child’s pediatrician. The doctor can observe your child’s behavior and can give you feedback. Because you spend more time with your child, your child’s pediatrician will ask for your observation of your child’s behavior and for your descriptions of what teachers, coaches and babysitters have been telling you. Generally, feedback from people who have experience and regularly spend time with children your child’s age is more reliable than feedback from people who do not have an understanding of kids.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.
Symptoms of inattention include:
*Inability to complete tasks, trouble with follow through when tasks or even fun activities become challenging
*Fickle, frequently moving from one activity to another, bored by activities
*Lack of attention compared to peers
*Trouble following instructions
*Losing things and having a hard time keeping track of items
*Easily distracted

Symptoms of hyperactivity include:
*Constant undirected moving
*Grabbing many objects without any specific purpose
However, these characteristics should be considered as part of the big picture. For example, it is normal for a child to pay attention to things he enjoys, rather than things he is not interested in. It is normal to participate in an activity that is fun and to want to turn away when it becomes difficult. Is your child interested in some activities? Can he focus on challenging games or sports? Can he follow directions when he wants a reward? Many of the behaviors associated with ADD and ADHD only occur in select situations in all children, and kids might focus when they are interested. This may simply be a sign of lack of maturity, which develops with age.
If your child seems to consistently demonstrate these problems, however, a professional evaluation can accurately diagnose the cause. Treatment for ADD and ADHD is often a combination of behavioral therapy, cooperation from adults and sometimes medication. Often, the disorder improves as children mature, and some adolescents and even adults require long-term treatment for effective control of symptoms.


Heidi Moawad MD is a Neurologist and a medical writer. Dr. Moawad is a graduate of Case Western Reserve school of Medicine and trained at University of Chicago Hospitals. Dr. Moawad is the author of “Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine” and she teaches human physiology and global health at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.


Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical consultation or serve as a substitute for medical advice provided by a physician or qualified medical professional.

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