Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) is a type of neurodivergence usually diagnosed during childhood. It is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Understanding the traits of ADHD can help parents distinguish between what might be considered developmentally appropriate rambunctiousness and inattention and the genuine inability to sit still and focus. It can also help adults recognize whether they may have undiagnosed ADHD.
ADHD is a disability, but it is mainly a disability due to the neurotypical-centered society that we live in. Rather than encouraging people with ADHD to hide their traits, support looks like creating environments where their needs are met without having to hide ormask.
This article discusses the common traits of ADHD and some less common ones people might experience. It also explores potential complications and when you should seek help from a professional.
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Signs & Symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the official diagnostic guide for mental health professionals used in the United States. It identifies nine symptoms of inattention and nine symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Types of ADHD
There are three different presentations for ADHD:
- Predominantly inattentive presentation
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
- Combined presentation
Each type is characterized by a different set of traits.
Symptoms of Inattention
Children and adults who are inattentive have difficulty staying focused and attending to tasks that they perceive as mundane. Tasks are more likely to be seen as mundane when they do not provide the ADHD brain with enough dopamine. Some common examples of these include cleaning bedrooms, doing homework, or sitting at the dinner table. Because of this, they may procrastinate doing work that requires a great deal of mental energy.
Many times, this procrastination is not by choice and is because of the lack of dopamine fueling the task activation center. People who experience traits of inattention may:
- Be easily distracted by sights and sounds
- Shift from one activity to another and get bored easily if the activities are not geared towards an ADHD brain
- Appear forgetful and even spacey or confused
- Make more mistakes
- Struggle to stay on task and pay attention if the activities are not geared towards an ADHD brain
- Have difficulty following instructions, finishing projects, and staying on task if the activities are not geared towards an ADHD brain
- Have trouble organizing tasks
- Lose belongings frequently
Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
Hyperactivity is the symptom most people think of when they hear the term "ADHD." Children and adults who are hyperactive have very high activity levels, which may present as physical, verbal and/or internal monologueoveractivity. Traits of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:
- Being constantly in motion as if driven by a motor
- Fidgeting to maintain focus
- Always having something to say, talking quickly, interrupting others, monopolizing conversations
- Difficulty sitting still or remaining seated when not provided appropriate stimulation
Common traits of ADHD include those related to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. How these traits present determines which type of ADHD a person might have.
Other ADHD Symptoms
In addition to the diagnostic criteria, there are additional common ADHD experiences. While these are not taken into account during the diagnostic process, they frequently affect the quality of people's lives. For example, people with ADHD are often accused of not trying or not appearing to care, which can be hurtful and untrue. They may also experience:
- Different progress speeds: Tasks, homework, a project at work, or a household chore seem to take people with ADHD longer than other people unless hyper-focus is engaged.
- Hyper-focus: While they have a low tolerance for boredom, they may hyper-focus on tasks that interest them, to the detriment of essential activities like sleep and social interaction. However, hyper-focus can also be useful when channeled into the task at hand.
- Forgetfulness: People with ADHD may forget things ranging from important people's birthdays, taking out the trash, or handing in homework (even when it has been completed).
- Financial problems: Even if they earn an above-average wage, impulsive spending and forgetting to pay bills can cause problems.
- Sleep problems: Getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up on time can all be difficult. They may also consume a lot of caffeine as a way to motivate themselves when their brain does not want to do a task.
- Low self-esteem: They worry about things they might have forgotten to do or done poorly because of inattention or impulsivity. Because of this, they often have low self-esteem after years of not meeting their own and other people's expectations, despite a desire to meet them.
When people with ADHD realize that these behaviors are connected with ADHD, they can experience a sense of relief. A diagnosis helps explain why they are the way they are and why they feel different from others.
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Complications & Comorbidities
As many astwo-thirds of childrenwith ADHD have one or more comorbidities, or co-occurring conditions. The most common of these are autism, anxiety, depression, and learning and language disabilities.
Adults with ADHD show an even higher incidence of comorbid disorders. These adults may also experience depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders.
ADHD can also affect different populations in different ways. For example, traits may present differently in adulthood than during childhood. It is also notable that the presentation of traits often differ somewhat in girls and women. This is often because marginalized groups are encouraged to mask in different and more camouflaging ways. Because of this, misdiagnosis and under-diagnosis are common in these groups.
ADHD Traits in Adults
ADHD traits typically change in adulthood. Hyperactivity becomes less visible to the observer. An adult can sit relatively still, even while feeling an internal restlessness.
Inattentive traits of ADHD usually remain consistent. However, adults typically have more control over their environment than children do. Adults can design a life that works with their ADHD subtype.
For example, many people with hyperactive ADHD are careful to choose a career that does not involve sitting at a desk for long. They might work at a hospital in a job that involves lots of walking or become a salesperson who uses their car as a traveling office. This freedom is not available to a child in school, so childhood ADHD traits tend to appear worse than adult traits.
In adults, ADHD traits can result in more diverse problems like losing a job, bankruptcy, marriage problems, and addictions.
The fifth edition of the DSM states that ADHD can be diagnosed if an adult meets the following criteria:
- The traits of ADHD have been present since childhood. You may not have been diagnosed as a child, but there must be evidence that you had problems with attention and self-control before you were 12 years old.
- The traits are present in more than one setting. You currently experience significant problems with inattentive and/or hyperactivity-impulsive traits in two or more important settings, for example, at home and school, or home and work.
- The traits affect performance.Your traits reduce the quality of your social, academic, and/or job performance.
- There are five or more traits present. The DSM identifies 18 symptoms of ADHD. Nine are related to inattention, and nine are linked to hyperactivity. After 17 years of age, if you have five of the symptoms listed, a diagnosis can be made.
- Other causes have been ruled out. Sometimes, ADHD-like traits are caused by another condition, like bipolar disorder or a sleep disorder.Before accurately diagnosing ADHD, the doctor or clinician needs to rule out all other possible causes that could account for the ADHD-like traits.
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ADHD in Girls and Women
Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, which often can go unnoticed and undiagnosed. A hyperactive child is much easier to detect than a quiet, day-dreamy one.
If a girl has hyperactivity-impulsivity, she might be considered a "tomboy" because she is more physically active than other girls her age. She might also be very talkative and impulsively interrupt others who are speaking. Because of this, it can be challenging for her to make friends.
ADHD traits in girls are often attributed to a girl's character. For example, a girl might be thought of as a "drama queen," a "tomboy," or a "chatterbox."
One of the benefits of girls being formally diagnosed with ADHD is that the diagnosis lifts the shame and guilt they might have about their traits. It also frees them from the labels they have been given.
ADHD can also look different throughout the lifespan. The hormone changes associated with puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and menstruation can increase the severity of ADHD traits.
In the past, women living with ADHD were often misdiagnosed with anxiety or depression. Thanks to increased knowledge and research about ADHD traits, more women are being diagnosed correctly.
Because traits differ from one person to the next, they can sometimes be misunderstood, particularly among adults and women or girls.
ADHD Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.
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Frequently Asked Questions
When should you see a doctor about traits of ADHD?
If you or your child are experiencing traits of ADHD, it is important to seek help. Traits vary from person to person, and there are different types of ADHD, so it's essential to keep that in mind when considering whether you or a loved one might have ADHD.
ADHD traits can:
- Change with age
- Change depending on the situation or environment a person is in
- Differ depending on the gender of the individual
- Range in severity, from mild to severe
- Increase in severity during times of stress
A healthcare provider can help make a diagnosis, refer you to a specialist, and get started with a treatment plan. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, they may need accommodations at school to help them succeed. Contact your child's teacher to start this process.
Is there a test for ADHD?
There is no single test that can diagnose ADHD, and even trained physicians can have a hard time making the correct diagnosis. ADHD is diagnosed by looking at a person's behavior history, interviewing family members, conducting a physical exam, and utilizing psychological tests. It's crucial to get an accurate diagnosis to understand the specific type of ADHD you have.
What are the positive aspects of having ADHD?
While traits of ADHD can interfere with different areas of life, getting an appropriate diagnosis and treatment can help you or your child manage the neurotype. While ADHD is often thought of as a liability, there can be some positive aspects to having ADHD, especially when it is treated appropriately.
For example, having lots of energy can help you get a lot done and achieve your goals. You may also experience a great deal of creativity and curiosity about the world. And because you know what it's like to cope with challenges, you are probably an empathetic and trustworthy friend.
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