ADHD is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and might become more obvious when your child's circumstances change, such as when they start school.
The symptoms, usually noticed before the age of six, are categorised into two types of behavioural problems:
Most people with ADHD have problems that fall into both these categories, but this isn't always the case. For example, some might have problems with inattentiveness, but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This form of ADHD is also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD).
ADD can sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms might be less obvious. It’s thought that girls more commonly present with ADD, which is why they’re less likely to get a diagnosis than boys.
Whilst children with ADHD will show the core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness (or inattention only with ADD) there are a lot of other reasons why children and young people may present as hyperactive, inattentive or restless and impulsive. These include sensory processing and 'proprioception' difficulties (hypermobility and difficulties with posture), learning difficulties, anxiety, depression, and reaction to stressful or difficult life experiences.
Children who show signs of inattentiveness might have a short attention span and be easily distracted. They might have difficulty organising themselves, they can make careless mistakes such as in their schoolwork, and they can appear forgetful and/or lose things. They might have difficulty sticking at tasks that are tedious or time-consuming, and constantly change tasks and activities. They might also have difficulty listening to or carrying out instructions.
Children who are hyperactive can have difficulty sitting still and concentrating, especially in calm or quiet surroundings. They might want to move excessively, fidget constantly, talk more than necessary and find it difficult to wait and take their turn.
Impulsive behaviours can include acting without thinking, interrupting conversations and appearing to have little or no sense of danger.
Although not always the case, some children might also have other problems or conditions alongside their ADHD. These include anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, depression, sleep problems, autistic spectrum condition (ASC), epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome and learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
All children and young people with ADHD will benefit if there are behaviour support strategies put in place both at home and school to support their specific needs. For children with mild ADHD these strategies are likely to benefit them without the need for medication and/or therapeutic intervention.
If you’re a parent of a child or young person with ADHD, it’s important to seek support and advice to give you strategies to help support and manage your child’s ADHD.
Schools can be a very difficult environment for young people with ADHD as they’re required to do all the things that they find difficult. They have to sit still for long periods of time, concentrate on tasks that might not interest them, keep quiet and not call out in class, remember equipment and organise themselves between various activities. If their behaviour isn’t understood in the context of ADHD, this can lead to them being seen as disruptive, which can have an impact on their peer relationships, their learning and their self-esteem.
It's important to meet or talk with the school regularly. Talk about the support they’re putting in place for all aspects of the school day, such as break times, lessons and the beginning and end of the day when your child might need help organising themselves and remembering things.
The kind of things that might help are:
If you suspect your child has ADHD, speak to your school Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in the first instance. If you would like to find out about making a referral, please visit our ADHD service page.
If your child’s behaviour is becoming increasingly agitated, or they have an extreme mood change you’re unable to connect with a change in circumstances or other difficulties, contact your ADHD CAMHS clinician.
You should also contact your CAMHS clinician if your child is expressing a desire to harm themselves, or you have discovered that they have self-harmed or are putting themselves at significant risk.
If you’re concerned about immediate and significant risk due to self-harming behaviour, call Accident & Emergency (A&E) and/or take your child to your local A&E department.
If your child’s symptoms are moderate to severe, there is an option to explore medication to help them manage their symptoms. There are two main types of medication, stimulant medication and non-stimulant medication. The different types, and how they might suit your child, will be discussed with you. While medication can be effective at managing ADHD symptoms, it should be considered alongside behavioural support strategies at home and at school, and will only help manage the symptoms of attention deficit, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
If your child is on medication and you are concerned about significant weight loss, contact your ADHD Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinician straight away.
There is lots of support available in your area, see The Local Offer for more information on how to access it.
Parenting Special Children (opens in new window), provide ADHD support on behalf of the BOB Integrated Care Service. It offers pre and post assessment advice and support for families with children and young people aged up to 25.
Books that you may also find helpful include:
ADHD and autism support service (Bracknell, Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead)
ADHD and autism support service (Newbury, Reading, Wokingham)
The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Parenting Special Children