What Could ADHD Look Like?

Young boy jumping in the middle of a road in the mountains.

It is important to think about your child’s symptoms in the context of their level of developmental functioning. For example, we expect that toddlers and young children will display a degree of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Furthermore, for youth with intellectual disabilities, it is important to not assume they are inattentive and/or hyperactive as a result of ADHD.

For example, if schoolwork is significantly too hard or is not paired with proper support they may present as inattentive. When considering the following, it will be helpful to think about how your child compares to other peers of their same developmental age.

Common signs include the following: 

Inattention: short attention span, easily distracted by external stimuli (e.g., noises, other children in the classroom), forgetfulness, hyperfocused on certain activities of interest (e.g., video games), and avoidance of tasks that are more difficult (e.g., chores, schoolwork)

Hyperactivity: difficulty waiting their turn, difficulty sitting still or in their seat (for school-aged children), constant fidgeting, talking too much

            Impulsivity: act without thinking, interrupt others, blurt out answers

  • Adolescents may engage in risky or irresponsible behaviors without thinking through the possible consequences.

Example (Hyperactivity and Inattention): A preschool-aged child has a very hard time sitting for more than a few minutes at a time unless they are engaged in their focused interest. Dinner time, reading stories, and toilet training is extra difficult due to constant movement, limited concentration, and their distractability.  They also appear to rarely be listening to their parents and struggle to follow simple instructions.

Example (Inattention only): A school-aged child sits in their seat quietly. When called on they don’t know the answer because they spend more of their time staring out the window, daydreaming, or doodling in their notebook. They spend hours doing their homework but forget to turn it in. They also struggle with skills such as difficulty managing their time, organizing their schoolwork into appropriate folders, and staying focused on tasks until they are completed.    

How To Help Your Child with ADHD At Home

Girl blowing bubbles

Provide Clear Expectations

  • Get your child’s attention: It is important to ensure that you have your child’s attention before giving directions or asking a question. Prompting eye contact or turning their body towards you may be good ways to make sure you have their attention. 
  • Keep it simple: Short, simple directions rather than multiple, wordy directions are usually more successful.
  • Break it down: It may be helpful to break tasks down into short, simple steps rather than one big task. For example, “clean your room” can be broken down into three smaller steps such as “put clothes in the laundry basket, put toys in the bin, and make your bed.”

Positive Rewards

  • Feedback: Provide more praise, especially when your child is behaving in a desired way. It is recommended that feedback be given frequently and immediately after the desired behavior. Make comments that are specific (“you are doing an excellent job cleaning your room”) rather than vague (“good job”). 
  • Keeping it positive: Make sure to give daily praise for all behavioral successes and try to focus on rewards for meeting expectations rather than consequences for failing to meet expectations.   

Use Visual Schedules or Checklists

  • For autistic students, following verbal directions and independently “figuring out” what to do can be difficult. Visual schedules and checklists may help your child know where they need to be, what they need to do, how they will know when they are finished, and what will happen next. Schedules including pictures and checklists can help promote independence and flexibility. Below are important considerations when developing schedules and checklists:   
    • It is recommended that the visual supports use words and/or pictures that are at your child’s reading level.
    • The amount of information on the checklists and schedules is also important to consider. While some children can process an entire day of information, other children may do better with a schedule for a small part of their day.
    • Schedules that are posted to a wall are not as useful as schedules that require interaction. For example, your child may do best checking off their schedule or putting a sticker next to what they have completed. If your child prefers cards for their schedule, they can put each completed card in a pocket.
    • Rewards for completing the schedule may be useful to motivate your child!

University of Colorado Anschutz Campus Programs

  • Unstuck and On Target: A 14-week program developed to help increase children’s flexibility who have diagnoses of ASD and ADHD. 

JFK Partners (SOM)

CU Anschutz

Education II South

13121 East 17th Avenue

Mail Stop C234

Aurora, CO 80045


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