In many cases, ADHD symptoms appear over the course of several months, often with symptoms of impulsiveness and hyperactivity preceding those of inattention, which may not emerge for a year or more. Specific symptoms include having trouble organizing activities, fidgeting, and excessive talking. Many normal children can have symptoms of this condition, but at lower levels, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis by a qualified professional.
As explained in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the principal symptoms of ADHD are:
The DSM-IV-TR gives the following symptoms of inattention:
- Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
- Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
- Often has trouble organizing activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn't want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
- Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (for example, toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Children with symptoms of inattention have a hard time keeping their minds on any one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. If they are doing something they really enjoy, they have no trouble paying attention. However, focusing deliberate, conscious attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new is difficult.
Homework is particularly difficult for children with symptoms of inattention. They will forget to write down an assignment or leave it at school. They will forget to bring a book home or will bring the wrong one. The homework, if finally finished, is full of errors and erasures. Homework is often accompanied by frustration for both parent and child.