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What Is ADHD?

At times, all kids have trouble paying attention, listening, sitting still, or waiting their turn. But kids with ADHD have trouble with these things almost all the time. 

Kids with ADHD aren't being this way on purpose. ADHD is a medical condition that affects their attention and self-control. Because of ADHD, they have a harder time staying focused. ADHD can also make kids more fidgety than other kids their age.

Kids with ADHD might have a tough time controlling their behavior and get into trouble more. This can make it hard to do things like pay attention in class or get along with others.

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That's the medical term for difficulties with attention and self-control that can make kids fidget and move a lot.

What Are the Signs of ADHD?

Kids with ADHD might:

  • have trouble listening and paying attention
  • need lots of reminders to do things
  • get distracted easily
  • seem absent-minded
  • be disorganized and lose things
  • not sit still, wait their turn, or be patient
  • rush through homework or other tasks or make careless mistakes
  • interrupt a lot, and talk or call out in class when they shouldn't
  • do things they shouldn't, even though they know better
  • feel restless, fidgety, frustrated, and bored

If a kid has a lot of these signs, and these problems happen most of the time, it might be ADHD.

How Do Doctors Tell if a Kid Has ADHD?

If parents think their child might have ADHD, they can talk with the doctor about it. There are no lab tests or blood tests for ADHD. But doctors are trained to know what signs to look for. 

If your parents take you to get checked out for ADHD, the doctor will ask you questions about what's going on in your life and at school. The doctor will ask things like if you have trouble doing homework, sitting still, slowing down, or listening — and how long that's been going on.

The doctor will check to make sure another health or learning issue is not the cause. The doctor will probably ask your parents and teachers to fill out checklists.

How Is ADHD Treated?

If a doctor finds that you have ADHD, you will get treatment to help. This can be a big relief. It can be hard to feel like you're always struggling with things that other kids seem to have no trouble doing.

To help kids with ADHD, doctors might:

  • Prescribe medicine. Doctors can give kids medicine that boosts the brain's ability to pay attention, slow down, and be more patient.
  • Provide therapy. Therapists can help kids learn to be more patient, cope with feelings, and gain self-control. They can help kids see the best in themselves and figure out what they're good at and how to use their strengths.
  • Help parents learn what to do. Parents can do things to help kids listen better, like telling kids one thing at a time. They can help kids organize their things at home. They can give encouragement, love, and support.

It's not just doctors and parents who help kids with ADHD. Sometimes schools give kids a learning plan called an IEP that's designed just for them.

Teachers can also do these things to help kids with ADHD do well in class:

  • Break schoolwork into parts.
  • Help kids organize their things.
  • Make sure kids sit where they are less likely to be distracted, like away from a window or door.
  • Give kids quick breaks to get up and move during class.

There are things that kids with ADHD can do to help themselves too, like:

  • Eat healthy food.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Be active every day.
  • Practice mindful breathing.

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD is caused by differences in the brain's ability to pay attention, slow down, and be patient. It's not clear what causes these brain differences, but doctors know that ADHD is in a person's genes. Most kids who have ADHD have a parent or relative with ADHD.

ADHD is not caused by eating too much sugar. And it's not something a kid does on purpose.

What's It Like for Kids With ADHD?

Having ADHD can be difficult sometimes. Kids may get scolded for things they can't help — like not listening, getting distracted, or doing things too fast. That can make them feel bad about themselves. At times, they may mistakenly blame themselves for ADHD. But ADHD is not a kid's fault.

Parents, teachers, and therapists can help kids get better at paying attention, slowing down, and gaining self-control. They can teach kids to use their strengths and energy in good ways. Kids with ADHD can improve their attention and self-control, do well in school and activities they enjoy, and feel good about themselves.

Medically reviewed by: Shirin Hasan, MD
Date reviewed: May 2022