Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects behavior. Signs and symptoms of ADHD may appear from early childhood. They can include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

ADHD is a developmental disorder, meaning that it develops in childhood. Doctors diagnose most cases of ADHD in children ages 3–7 years old. Early signs of ADHD include hyperactivity, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.

Read on to learn more about the early signs of ADHD.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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ADHD affects 9.8% of children in the United States between ages 3–17 years old. Boys are more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls, and they also typically show more outward symptoms.

The three hallmark signs of ADHD are:

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Signs of inattention often become clearer in a school setting. Children with ADHD may:

  • appear not to pay attention in class
  • appear not to listen
  • have difficulty following instructions
  • have difficulty finishing schoolwork
  • have difficulty getting organized
  • avoid tasks that require focus, such as homework
  • lose or forget items
  • become easily distracted

Hyperactivity and impulsivity

Children with ADHD may be hyperactive and act impulsively from a young age. This may include:

  • fidgeting
  • having difficulty remaining in their seat
  • appearing to be constantly in motion
  • running or climbing on things when it is not appropriate or allowed
  • interrupting their teacher
  • talking excessively
  • having difficulty playing quietly
  • intruding on other children’s games or interrupting them when speaking
  • finding it hard to wait their turn

A child with ADHD will have symptoms for more than 6 months and behave in ways not considered typical for a child their age.

Around 2.5% of adults have ADHD. As a person ages, their ADHD symptoms may change. For example, it is common for people to experience less hyperactivity through adolescence and into adulthood, while symptoms relating to inattentiveness may remain.

Treatment to manage symptoms is essential, as the condition can negatively affect someone’s life without it.

ADHD in adults can affect relationships, careers, and day-to-day functioning. Symptoms can affect daily life, such as time management, and can cause forgetfulness and impatience.

Learn about symptoms of ADHD in adults here.

It can be difficult to diagnose ADHD in young children due to their behavior changes. They may be very energetic and distracted one day and calmer and focused on other days. Due to this, doctors typically diagnose children with ADHD after the age of 5 years old.

Early signs of the disorder may include:

  • extreme restlessness
  • running, climbing, and jumping on things
  • causing disruption at daycare and school
  • excessive talking
  • an inability to concentrate
  • difficulty settling for naps
  • difficulty sitting still at mealtimes

It is important to note that inattention and hyperactivity are common in toddlers and are not always a sign of ADHD. Many young children have short attention spans, may have tantrums, and can be full of energy during different developmental stages.

Parents or caregivers should consult a doctor if they have concerns about their child’s behavior and feel it is having a negative impact on family life.

Learn about tantrums and ADHD here.

Are signs different in boys and girls?

Research suggests that boys are more than twice as likely as girls to have ADHD. However, this may be because boys display classic signs of hyperactivity more obviously than girls, which may affect rates of diagnosis.

Research has shown that boys with ADHD are more likely to show externalized signs, such as impulsivity and rule-breaking, whereas girls are more likely to display internalized signs, such as inattentiveness.

Girls with ADHD may also exhibit signs of hyperactivity. However, in many cases, symptoms are subtler. Girls with ADHD may:

  • daydream
  • display symptoms of anxiety
  • display symptoms of depression
  • be extremely talkative
  • appear not to listen
  • be emotionally sensitive
  • underachieve academically
  • be withdrawn
  • be verbally aggressive

Boys with ADHD may:

  • be impulsive or “act out”
  • run around at times when it is inappropriate
  • have difficulty focusing
  • appear not to listen
  • be unable to sit still
  • become physically aggressive, such as hitting objects or others
  • talk excessively
  • interrupt conversations and activities

Prompt diagnosis is vital. This is because ADHD can affect schoolwork, home life, and relationships. Children whose condition remains undiagnosed are also more likely to develop the following:

A doctor will ask about the child’s symptoms and assess their behavior to diagnose ADHD.

There is no single test for ADHD. A doctor will instead gather evidence from parents, teachers, and family members. They will then base their diagnosis on the answers and information about the child’s behavior over the past 6 months.

Doctors will also typically carry out a physical examination to check for any additional or underlying health problems.

Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment can ease symptoms and help prevent additional complications.

There are several treatment options for people with ADHD. Therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can all help a person to manage their condition and cope with symptoms. Doctors often recommend a combination of all three.


The two types of medications doctors prescribe to treat ADHD are stimulants and nonstimulants.

Central nervous system stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine-based stimulants (Adderall), are the most common prescription ADHD medications. These drugs work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

A doctor may also prescribe nonstimulant medications such as atomoxetine (Strattera) and antidepressants such as nortriptyline (Pamelor). These drugs work by increasing levels of norepinephrine in the brain.

Learn about how to tell whether ADHD medication is working here.


Behavioral therapy can help a person with ADHD better understand their condition and learn management techniques.

Family therapy can help inform parents and caregivers about ADHD and how to cope with the child’s condition. This can help them to create environments and routines conducive to symptom management.

Learn about how to care for a child with ADHD here.

Lifestyle changes

Parents and caregivers can help their children manage ADHD symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend lifestyle changes, including:

  • encouraging children to eat a nutritious, balanced diet
  • getting at least 1 hour of physical activity each day
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • limiting screen time each day, including phones, computers, and television

Set routines in which children understand what they will be doing may help to reduce symptoms.

The early signs of ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. These symptoms typically start in early childhood. However, some people do not notice ADHD symptoms until later life.

A person cannot prevent ADHD. However, there are ways to manage the condition so that it has a minimal effects on a person’s day-to-day life.

Organizations such as Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association provide information about the disorder and tips for managing it.

The more parents and caregivers educate themselves about the condition, the better equipped and more able to manage it they will feel.