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What is ADHD?

What is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. It is condition seen in both children and adults.

If somebody has ADHD, they might have symptoms which fall into 3 areas:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity or impulsivity
  • a combination of the above

For a diagnosis of ADHD, there must be evidence that these key symptoms are getting in the way in more than one situation. For example, home life and school life or home life and another setting.

Another way of looking at ADHD focuses on talents such as creativity, energy, and ability to express yourself quickly and freely whilst understanding that ADHD can result in difficulties in education, health, and social situations.

What might I see if my child has ADHD?


Children with ADHD have inconsistent attention.

Children with ADHD are very interest-led and may be able to focus for long periods of time on tasks that they find enjoyable or tasks of their choice.

Younger children might find listening and following instructions hard. They may be easily distracted from a task or game. This might present as ‘flitting between’ tasks and activities.


In primary school, children may find it hard to follow the instructions given in lessons and can miss information. They struggle to start and complete work and may appear to be behind in learning. Teachers and parents may also notice:

  • zoning out
  • daydreaming
  • not listening

Difficulties might become apparent for the first time in children transitioning to secondary school, especially for more academically able children. There is pressure to cope in a more socially and academically complex setting. This can result in poor organisation and difficulties processing information. You might notice your child forgetting or losing equipment and belongings or failing to complete homework. Children may describe feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or tired at the end of the school day.


Children can display hyperactivity in many different ways.

In some children, hyperactivity might be described as ‘driven by a motor’ or always on the go. This could be seen as fidgeting, fiddling, running, and climbing where it is not always appropriate to do so.

Sometimes hyperactivity can be more subtle for example, small movements such as:

  • hair twirling
  • foot tapping
  • biting nails
  • chewing clothes
  • playing with jewellery and equipment
  • excessive talking and giggling

Sometimes hyperactivity can be a busy mind that rarely switches off.


Children with impulsivity lack the ability to stop and think before they act. For example:

  • struggling to wait their turn when playing games
  • interrupting and talking over others
  • calling out in class
  • struggle to resist distractions

Children may appear to lack danger awareness. Examples may include:

  • crossing the road without looking
  • taking risks without thought for consequence
  • making inappropriate lifestyle and friendship decisions
  • inappropriate use of social media


Children with ADHD can struggle with managing emotional reactions to events. They can often be quick to react and are more likely to publicly show emotions. For example, in some situations they may appear more likely to:

  • be quickly frustrated
  • have over the top reactions
  • be confrontational or angry
  • be excessively giddy

These emotions are often short-lived and happen several times a day.


ADHD in some children can be difficult to identify

Some children may ‘mask’ their ADHD characteristics. These features may not be easily seen in the school setting but noted by parents at home. In these cases, children may experience:

  • excessive tiredness after the school day
  • emotional outbursts
  • excessive energy following the school day
  • distress and frustration

Children may describe that they feel like they are struggling to achieve at their ability despite excessive effort.

All of this may impact significantly upon self-esteem.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: NDS27

Resource Type: Article

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