While not a formal diagnosis, high functioning attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) represents individuals whose ADHD symptoms do not significantly affect their daily lives.

ADHD can cause symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention. Symptom severity can vary from person to person.

High functioning ADHD is not an official diagnosis. However, the term may refer to people with mild ADHD symptoms or who have found coping mechanisms to manage symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.

This article explores high functioning ADHD symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and when to contact a doctor.

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High functioning ADHD in adults frequently exhibits symptoms consistent with clinical ADHD, including the following:

Individuals with high functioning ADHD may develop coping strategies to navigate these symptoms more effectively. This could include:

  • setting multiple alarms for deadlines
  • taking frequent notes to help remember important tasks
  • keeping a detailed calendar

These compensations can make it difficult for doctors to recognize ADHD, as organizational tactics and coping mechanisms can veil its underlying symptoms.

Symptoms in children

A 2018 article suggests people with high functioning ADHD may develop less severe symptoms of ADHD, or they may compensate for their weaknesses with certain strengths.

Symptoms of high functioning ADHD in children may include the following:

  • inability to remain seated
  • fidgeting with hands or feet
  • excessive talking
  • running or climbing in inappropriate places
  • difficulty waiting for their turn
  • interrupting others
  • careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • difficulty staying focused
  • difficulty listening
  • difficulty following through on instructions
  • time management issues
  • frequently losing things
  • easily distracted

Some children lean toward having symptoms that fall in the inattentive category, while others may lean toward hyperactivity. Sometimes, children with ADHD have a combination of the two types of symptoms.

High functioning ADHD is often undiagnosed. People can speak with a doctor about ADHD if they have symptoms, particularly if they cause difficulty in daily functioning.

Doctors do not yet know what causes ADHD. However, growing research suggests that genetics and the environment may play a role.

Although the condition starts in childhood, some people may not receive a diagnosis until adulthood. To diagnose ADHD, doctors will ask questions and make observations about symptoms occurring over a period of time.

For a positive diagnosis, the symptoms must have started before the age of 12 and must occur in multiple settings.

ADHD treatment typically incorporates therapy and medication. Psychostimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate are the main medications doctors use to treat ADHD.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, treatment aims to lessen symptoms and improve functioning at school, work, and home.

People with ADHD may also benefit from behavioral therapy or coaching. ADHD coaches can identify unhelpful coping mechanisms or thinking patterns and help people learn new, healthier strategies to manage difficulties due to ADHD.

Talking with a coach can also help individuals with ADHD understand how their brain works and use that knowledge to work with their brain rather than against it.

Treatments for children

For preschool-aged children or younger, behavioral strategies are the first treatment option. This may include teaching parents and caregivers how to manage the child’s behavior and getting help from the school.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is a type of therapy that may help children with oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration approves amphetamines for treating children with ADHD.

It is a good idea to talk with a doctor if a person notices that they or someone else is having difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, or controlling impulses.

If these challenges are making daily life or schoolwork difficult, a doctor can help determine whether high functioning ADHD might be the reason and what steps to take next.

While not an official diagnosis, high functioning ADHD may describe individuals with ADHD symptoms that do not affect their daily activities.

Symptoms may include difficulties with focus, time management, impulsivity, and more. These individuals may develop strategies to manage their symptoms.

Treatment typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. ADHD coaching is another method people with high functioning ADHD can learn positive ways to work with their brain rather than against it.