How to Detect AD/HD

Ideally, early and accurate detection in conjunction with appropriate treatment of AD/HD, support for the family, interventions and accommodations within the educational systems are critical for children and adolescents who are suspected of having AD/HD.

However, certain forms of AD/HD are not easy to detect because the symptoms are not obvious.

Two key indicators of AD/HD are the extent to which the hyperactive or impulsive behaviours and attention deficit problems:

  • impair the child or adolescent’s ability to function at the same level as his/her peers in both the home and the school settings, and
  • are not in keeping with either the intellectual abilities or the developmental stages of the child/adolescent.

In preschool-age-children, symptoms may be difficult to identify. Normal behaviour in young children periodically includes all of the major symptoms. However, AD/HD is distinguished from normal behaviour by the severity and consistency of symptoms. Preschool-age children who have AD/HD will differ from their peers in the way they interact with their peers and in the way they pay attention during “pretend play”.

Children between the ages of 6 and 12 usually show more obvious signs of AD/HD than other age groups. School expectations can make symptoms more noticeable. For some children, school is the first setting where academic performance and socialization abilities are assessed. However, it is often more difficult to detect AD/HD when inattention is the primary symptom and the child is otherwise well-behaved. The presence of AD/HD may be indicated by:

  • low marks on tests, including achievement tests.
  • poor organization and study skills.
  • socialization problems and feeling rejected by peers.
  • dislike of school and frustration with schoolwork.
  • difficulties with homework.
  • poor achievement in relation to ability.
  • always out-of-step with peers.
  • more easily stressed than peers.

Whereas adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19 may be in better control of disruptive behaviour related to hyperactivity, other problems that began in earlier years may continue or become worse when AD/HD is not treated.

Adolescents with inattention problems who previously managed to cope may start to fall behind with their schoolwork. This is more noticeable when major changes occur, such as the family moving house, starting in a new school or going to college or university.

For all age groups, the presence of accompanying sleep problems, emotional instability, excessive irritability, low self-esteem, etc. are important indicators that should not be ignored.


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