Some potential signs a person might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include difficulty controlling impulses, staying on-task, or focusing for long periods.

Many people encounter these issues occasionally, especially if they are tired, bored, or unmotivated. However, in ADHD, these challenges are persistent and affect all aspects of a person’s life.

People with ADHD can also be energetic, good at creative problem-solving, spontaneous, and passionate about the things they find interesting.

This article discusses how someone can know if they have ADHD, including the signs, differences between girls and boys, and how to get a diagnosis.

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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People cannot diagnose themselves with ADHD. Only a medical or mental health professional can do this by carrying out an assessment.

However, not everyone has access to ADHD assessments, and diagnosis can take time. This leads many people to try to determine whether they could have ADHD for themselves.

A person may suspect they have ADHD if they have had persistent difficulty paying attention and controlling impulses throughout their life. ADHD begins in childhood, so this may have affected them at school.

They may have received feedback from teachers that they were restless, fidgety, often forgetful, or had difficulty staying on-task. If they were impulsive, they may have gotten in trouble for getting up, wandering around, talking a lot, or interrupting.

For some individuals, these signs can continue into adulthood, which may affect a person’s relationships or career. They may find it more difficult to manage their time than others, or to manage everyday tasks, such as paying bills or cooking food.

Other conditions can produce some of the same effects as ADHD. For example, untreated anxiety and depression may also present with difficulty concentrating. People can also have issues with impulsivity, hyperactivity, or paying attention for other reasons, such as boredom.

However, what sets ADHD apart is that it is long term, causing these challenges more frequently and with greater severity across a range of situations.

The symptom criteria for ADHD come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5-TR).

The DSM-5-TR states that, for people to qualify for an ADHD diagnosis, they must:

  • have symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that have lasted for at least 6 months
  • have had the symptoms before the age of 12 years
  • experience symptoms in two or more settings, such as at home and school

A person with inattention may:

  • appear not to listen when someone is talking with them
  • often make mistakes or overlook details
  • often not follow instructions
  • often lose things, such as their keys or wallet
  • forget daily tasks or have difficulty organizing them
  • have difficulty focusing their attention
  • often avoid tasks that require staying focused for a long time
  • become easily distracted

A person with impulsivity or hyperactivity may:

  • often move around in their seat or fidget
  • leave their seat in situations where others expect them to stay seated, such as in a classroom
  • have a lot of energy and are always “on the go”
  • talk a lot
  • have difficulty waiting their turn
  • find it challenging to do activities quietly
  • give answers to questions before a person has finished speaking
  • interrupt others during conversations or games

Children up to age 16 must have at least six symptoms in each category, while teenagers age 17 and adults must have at least five.

If a person only has enough symptoms to qualify in one category, they may have predominantly inattentive ADHD or predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. These are subtypes of the condition.

Many people have difficulty with motivation at times. However, having a lack of desire to complete tasks is not necessarily a sign of ADHD.

For example, a person may find cleaning boring, so they put off tidying their living space. Depending on their circumstances, they may find it hard to motivate themselves to clean at all, particularly if they have a condition that affects motivation, such as depression.

A person with ADHD could also feel this way, but they will have additional barriers that make the task more challenging, even if it is something they want to do. They may:

  • find it hard to know where to start
  • have difficulty breaking the task down into logical steps
  • become distracted by other things
  • forget what they are doing
  • find the task understimulating, and so have difficulty concentrating

These barriers can mean a person procrastinates on tasks for long periods or avoids tasks entirely. From the outside, people may think this is due to a lack of motivation or “laziness.”

However, it is a myth that people with ADHD are lazy. People with ADHD can care deeply about tasks and still have difficulty doing them. The challenges stem from a mismatch between the task and what their brain needs.

Research suggests that the symptoms of ADHD can be different across sexes or genders.

A 2019 study involving 204 children with ADHD found that girls presented with more inattention, while boys displayed more rule-breaking behavior, as well as depression and anxiety. Distractibility affected both genders equally.

Research from 2020 explored the gender differences in thinking between 41 men and 28 women with ADHD. The study found that the female respondents had more issues with impulse control and working memory.

It is unclear whether these differences stem from how ADHD affects the brain or are due to social factors, such as gender roles or women experiencing delays in getting a diagnosis.

Learn more about ADHD in women.

Doctors and psychologists use the DSM-5-TR criteria to diagnose ADHD.

A 2023 research article states that doctors do not use a physical exam, lab tests, or X-rays to confirm an ADHD diagnosis. However, tests can rule out medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms. For example, a vision and hearing test may help rule out difficulty seeing or hearing as a cause for inattentiveness.

Some organizations offer online screening tests for ADHD. These can indicate whether a person could have ADHD, but they cannot provide a diagnosis.

This is because other conditions may explain the symptoms, which can lead to false positives. A person who scores highly on a reputable ADHD test should discuss these results with a doctor.

Some organizations that provide online ADHD screening tools include:

If an adult notices ongoing symptoms of ADHD in their child or themselves, they should contact a doctor. The only way to know for sure is to undergo an assessment.

The earlier a person can get a diagnosis, the sooner they can get support and treatment.

People with inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity may wonder if they have ADHD. However, there is no way to know for sure without undergoing an assessment.

In children, some potential signs of ADHD include becoming easily distracted, talking a lot, and having difficulty sitting still. In adults, symptoms may affect time management and the ability to complete everyday tasks.

Online screening tests are available, but they cannot provide an ADHD diagnosis. The only way to be certain is to ask a medical professional.