ADHD Or Normal Behavior? How To Tell When There Is A Problem With Focus Or Impulsivity

ADHD-Or-Normal-2-copyThe red flags for ADHD often parallel the traits young children show just by existing. As you read through the list of telltale signs, you may see characteristics that remind you of your child…

Do not panic.

And do not immediately diagnose him yourself!

Keep in mind, the differences between developmentally appropriate behavior and ADHD lie in how much the behavior is negatively affecting the child’s life and how “over-the-top” it is. Children with ADHD exhibit “typical” behavior on a magnified level, and their lack of focus or impulsive actions are much more pronounced than those of their same-age peers.

When it comes to ADHD, children can be further identified under one of three subtypes: Inattentive, Hyperactive or Combined. Here are characteristics of each:


This Person…

  • Does not pay attention to detail
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Cannot stay focused on a task for long
  • Doesn’t seem to listen
  • Has trouble with following through
  • Often does not finish work
  • Is disorganized
  • Has difficulty keeping track of things
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful


This Person…

  • Fidgets
  • Squirms
  • Leaves seat when it is not appropriate
  • Runs or climbs excessively
  • Has trouble playing quietly
  • Is “on the go”
  • Talks nonstop


This person exhibits characteristics of both the Hyperactive and the Inattentive subtypes.

We all exhibit these characteristics from time to time.

And it is perfectly natural that our children do these things, as they are growing and maturing in their abilities.

The difference between a “typical” child and a child who likely has ADHD is that these characteristics are extreme and causing problems in the child’s life, such as getting him in trouble in school or alienating his peers on a regular basis.

The problematic traits are also present in more than one place, like at home, school, sports practices and other places/activities.

As a learning specialist, I think of children as falling into three categories — Always, Never, Sometimes — when I consider their attention abilities and self-control:

  1. Always : Children who are pretty focused and attentive, and therefore are chugging along just fine
  1. Never : Children who obviously have trouble with focusing, tuning out distractions, staying organized, controlling themselves
  1. Sometimes : Children who have trouble with attention-related abilities periodically, to some negative consequences. These are the children who are complicated as to whether or not they “have” ADHD. Regardless of a diagnosis, these children benefit from support around organization, managing behavior, monitoring focus, taking ownership of their learning and advocating for their needs.

In the face of so much concern—and media buzz—around ADHD, it can be difficult to determine if we have an objective view of our children and whether we are supporting them in the best ways. If you have concerns about your child’s self-control, focus and/or attention, seek guidance from a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD. (In other words, bypass your pediatrician, no matter how much you love him/her!) Screening, diagnosing and treating ADHD is complex and best handled by someone who has a laser-focused practice and a wealth of experience in working with this condition.

Ask Heather

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