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10 Silent Signs Your Child Could Have ADHD

An energetic child may just be a healthy happy kid. But certain telltale signs may also indicate ADHD—here's what you need to know.

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ADHD is more common than you might think

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD, also known as ADD—is one of the most common conditions affecting the brains of children, yet there’s still a lot of confusion about the disorder: Check out these myths about ADHD. Up to 11 percent of kids may have ADHD, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control. That’s 6.4 million kids between the ages of 4 and 17.

But ADHD doesn’t have the same signs for every child, and some of the signs are less noticeable. Here’s what to look for and share with your child’s doctor.

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Your child is restless

A classic sign of ADHD is that a child can’t sit still. The child may get up and move around when it’s not appropriate, like in class or at dinner. When a kid is always on the run, it could be one of the many signs of ADHD.

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Acts before thinking

Another sign is that a child acts impulsively and without thinking of the consequences. “Kids with ADHD often do impulsive things that may risk serious injury,” says Tom Brown, PhD, an ADHD psychologist and Understood.org expert. “For instance, they might run out into traffic, climb in places where they’re likely to get hurt, or turn on and play with a stove.” This kind of behavior can lead to an early diagnosis.

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Daydreaming, trouble focusing

Not all kids with ADHD are hyperactive and impulsive: Some struggle more with what is known as inattentive ADHD. “These kids might fly under the radar because they aren’t bursting with energy and disrupting the classroom,” says educational consultant and Understood.org expert Rayma Griffin. “Instead, they often appear shy, ‘daydreamy’ or off in their own world.” (Here are some other conditions you should be aware of that are mistaken for ADD.)

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Can’t follow directions

Sometimes, it can seem like kids with ADHD ignore directions. “Many parents have trouble figuring out whether their child has ADHD or is being stubborn and tuning out Mom and Dad,” says Griffin. The truth is that kids with ADHD want to listen. However, they may not be able to focus or remember what they’re being told, she says.

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Gets distracted easily

One of the many signs of ADHD is distractibility, which isn’t the same as a lack of focus. “There’s a difference between not being focused on a task and getting distracted by information the brain struggles to filter out,” says teacher and Understood.org expert Amanda Morin. “With ADHD, anything kids see, hear or feel—such as an itch—could distract them.”

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Can’t remember simple things

Working memory—the ability to keep one thing in mind while doing something else—is also impacted by ADHD. Often kids with ADHD can’t seem to remember simple things, even when just told about them a few minutes before.

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Has trouble getting started or switching gears

Kids with ADHD often have trouble getting started on tasks, especially ones they don’t find interesting. They also have trouble switching gears from one task to another. If your child often can’t get started on tasks, or gets frustrated when being asked to change activities, it could be a sign of ADHD.

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Big emotional swings

Kids with ADHD often struggle with emotional regulation, says Brown. “They often get frustrated easily, worry too much and have trouble calming down,” he says. Learn how to tell if your child’s trouble with emotions may be due to ADHD.

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Disorganized and messy

“ADHD isn’t simply about behavior,” says Brown. “It’s a problem of the unfolding of the management system of the brain.” If your child’s is disorganized and their backpack is constantly a mess, it may be a sign of ADHD. Here are tips for helping kids get organized.

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Misses deadlines and appointments

Along with organization, ADHD also impacts time management. Kids with the condition often have trouble meeting deadlines and appointments. They may wait until the last minute before tackling a project. To help these kids, check out these tips for school.

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