Early symptoms of ADHD

adhdThe early symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may appear when a child is 2-3 years old. The main signs of this neurodevelopmental childhood disorder are inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms:

  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Daydreaming a lot.
  • Trouble following instructions.
  • Appear as if not listening.
  • Trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Forgetting and losing items.
  • Failing to finish schoolwork.
  • Becoming easily distracted.
  • Being fidgety or squirmy.
  • Not being able to remain seated.
  • Constant motion.
  • Talkativeness.
  • Interrupting other people’s conversations and activities.
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn.
  • Switching from one activity to another.
  • Trouble focusing on one thing.
  • Growing bored with a task after minutes.
  • Trouble assimilating information as easily and quickly as others.
  • Dashing around, touching or playing with everything in sight.
  • Impatience.
  • Blurting out inappropriate comments.
  • Showing emotions without restraint.
  • Acting without regard for consequences.

Not all children with ADHD have all of these symptoms, nor are all symptoms equally severe. Which symptoms are present and how strong they are is determined by the type of ADHD, of which there are three different ones.

Types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Predominantly inattentive

  • Difficulty organizing or finishing a task.
  • Difficulty paying attention to details.
  • Difficulty following instructions or conversations.
  • Becoming easily distracted.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive

  • Fidgeting and talking a lot.
  • Difficulty sitting still for a long period.
  • Running, jumping or climbing constantly (small children).
  • Feeling restless.
  • Impulsivity problems (interrupting, speaking at inappropriate times, grabbing things from people)
  • Difficulty waiting for one’s turn.
  • Difficulty listening to directions.
  • Accident and injury-proneness.


  • Symptoms of the above two types are equally present.

The early symptoms of ADHD are also used by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5) to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

DSM-5 attention deficit hyperactivity disorder criteria

Inattention. Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or 5 or more for teenagers 17 and older and adults. Symptoms have been present for a minimum of 6 months and are inappropriate for developmental level.

The person often:

  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities. 
  • Has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.    
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.    
  • Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace. 
  • Has trouble organizing tasks and activities.    
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time. 
  • Loses things necessary for tasks and activities.    
  • Is easily distracted.    
  • Is forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactivity and impulsivity. Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or 5 or more for teenagers 17 and older and adults. Symptoms have been present for a minimum of 6 months and are disruptive and inappropriate for developmental level.

The person often:

  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate.
  • Is unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is "on the go" acting as if "driven by a motor."  
  • Talks excessively.
  • Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Has trouble waiting his/her turn.
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others.

Additionally, there must be:

  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms present before age 12.    
  • Several symptoms present in two or more settings, (at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).    
  • Clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.    
  • Symptoms that do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder.

Doctors use the above criteria to help them make an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis. A healthcare professional is the only person who can establish such a diagnosis. They say that a mother or a father know best – unless their last name is Hogan – but most parents might be hard pressed to differentiate the early symptoms of ADHD from the normal behavior of a healthy child. The majority of children are inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive now and then. If you suspect your child has ADHD, feel free to use the CDC’s symptom checklist and share the results with your doctor.


Related Read:

ADHD or ADD Symptoms — For Kids and Adults Alike