What are the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include inattentive behavior and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. Examples of inattentive behavior include difficulty paying attention, forgetfulness, not finishing work, and trying to avoid school work. Examples of hyperactive-impulsive behavior include talking excessively, fidgeting or moving excessively, frequently interrupting others, and feeling restless. Persons affected by the condition may display mostly one type of symptom or a nearly equal mixture of both types.

Signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include the following:


  • Is often distracted and makes careless mistakes
  • Has trouble focusing and organizing
  • Doesn't follow through with tasks
  • Often forgets and loses things


  • Fidgets or squirms, seems or feels restless much of the time
  • Runs about or climbs too much, seems "driven by a motor"
  • Has trouble being quiet


  • Interrupts others
  • Has trouble taking turns or waiting in line
  • Blurts out answers before hearing the whole question


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Are you or your spouse constantly distracted or forgetful? Do either of you feel as if you can’t get anything done? If so, it could be attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—a serious medical problem that affects 9 million Americans, 75% of which are undiagnosed. ADHD can cause forgetfulness, irritability and procrastination, all of which can put a healthy marriage at risk. In fact, adults with ADHD are twice as likely to get divorced.

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Many! The primary symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inappropriate inattention that interfere with your ability to function. You know the classic after lunch slump when you’re having trouble focusing on the task at hand and you complain to your cube neighbor that you think you have ADHD.  But, in reality, since you can usually get back into the swing of things within minutes, it’s pretty unlikely you really have ADHD. People with ADHD have more trouble getting back into the swing of things—they cannot function for longer periods of time. 

Classic signs of hyperactivity in those with ADHD include constant talking, fidgeting, and bouncing off the walls. And what about impulsivity: the inability to take turns, being a major risk-taker, or being extremely impatient.

If the symptoms have been causing significant problems at school, work, or home for at least as long as most celebrity relationships tend to last (6 months), then talk to your doctor. There are many treatments available that can help.

Sue Hallowell
Social Work Specialist

Social worker and couple's therapist Sue Hallowell describes the symptoms of ADHD in adults. Watch Sue Hallowell's video for tips and information on couple's health and ADHD.

Dr. Dania J. Lindenberg, MD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with those of many other conditions. In fact, some things that could be considered ADHD symptoms are normal childhood behavior. Generally, however, ADHD symptoms include having trouble focusing and concentrating on tasks. Other symptoms include being easily distracted and forgetful. Children with ADHD tend to be very disorganized. They can also be disruptive, loud, impatient and hyperactive. If you think your child might have ADHD, speak with your pediatrician.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

There are many symptom checklists that help diagnose ADHD. The three main clusters of symptoms include:

  1. Difficulty Concentrating
  2. Hyperactivity
  3. Impulsivity

Because most people have some of these problems some of the time, ADHD is often misdiagnosed. If you think you have ADHD, you'll need to be thoroughly evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis. You can have all the symptoms of ADHD but NOT meet the criteria for a diagnosis if:

  2. Your symptoms only show up in one setting (work or home but not both)
  3. Your symptoms are better explained by other reasons or diagnoses.

One of the most common reason for a misdiagnosis of ADHD I have observed is for example when a 14 year old boy gets diagnosed with ADHD. His parents notice he has lost interest in school work, is easily distracted, has become impulsive and seems hyper at times. What other reasons might a 14 year old boy have for these "symptoms"?—14 year old girls! Yes, puberty can cause many symptoms that look like ADHD. This is why a thorough evaluation has to be done to rule out alternative explanations.

A child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might:

  • Have a hard time paying attention
  • Daydream a lot
  • Not seem to listen
  • Be easily distracted from schoolwork or play
  • Forget things
  • Be in constant motion or unable to stay seated
  • Squirm or fidget
  • Talk too much
  • Not be able to play quietly
  • Act and speak without thinking
  • Have trouble taking turns
  • Interrupt others

Most symptoms seen in children with ADHD also occur at times in children without this disorder. However, in children with ADHD, these symptoms occur more frequently and interfere with learning, school adjustment, and, sometimes, with the child's relationships with others. The following are the most common symptoms of ADHD. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. The three categories of symptoms of ADHD include the following:


  • Short attention span for age (difficulty sustaining attention)
  • Difficulty listening to others
  • Difficulty attending to details
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Poor organizational skills for age
  • Poor study skills for age


  • Often interrupts others
  • Has difficulty waiting for his/her turn in school and/or social games
  • Tends to blurt out answers instead of waiting to be called upon
  • Takes frequent risks, and often without thinking before acting


  • Seems to be in constant motion; runs or climbs, at times with no apparent goal except motion
  • Has difficulty remaining in his/her seat even when it is expected
  • Fidgets with hands or squirms when in his/her seat; fidgeting excessively
  • Talks excessively
  • Has difficulty engaging in quiet activities
  • Loses or forgets things repeatedly and often
  • Inability to stay on task; shifts from one task to another without bringing any to completion

The symptoms of ADHD may resemble other medical conditions or behavior problems. Always consult your child's or adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.