Normal Child Behavior or Something More? When to Consult a Professional

Doesn’t it seem like many children have an unlimited amount of energy? They can run, jump, play, and constantly deny naps, all without a sip of coffee.  A lot of us revel in the amount of energy our children have, but it can be worrisome when the level of activity and listening skills don’t seem age appropriate. Many parents wonder if there is something more to the story than their children just being hyper or disorganized, that perhaps their children have self-regulation deficits. It may be difficult for parents to differentiate between normal behavior and ADHD symptoms. What’s confusing is that the symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists seemingly normal child behaviors as symptoms of ADHD:

  • Often runs and climbs in situations where it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to feeling restless)
  • Often has difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often fails to give close attention to detail or makes mistakes
  • Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly

For many of us, this describes all of our children! Many children have difficulty walking when they want to run, waiting their turn to play with a toy, or being quiet when they want to play on their own and use their imaginations. So, with the knowledge of developmental milestones and ADHD symptoms and presentations, when should parents be concerned that their child may be dealing with more than just the typical impulsivity that comes along with being a child?

The key thing to remember here is that it is not only the DSM-5 behaviors (symptoms) that are important but that these behaviors must be developmentally inappropriate and must interfere with some area of development or functioning (think peers……think family……think school……). So, if your child is simply having difficulty waiting their turn with no other symptoms, they probably do not have ADHD. Similarly, if your child demonstrates these behaviors at home but not in school or other settings, it is unlikely that your child has ADHD.

Here is a chart from the ADHD Institute to inform of the typical symptoms to look out for (notice the word “often” is included, and this is important because, if these behaviors are often happening, they are likely interfering with the child’s daily functioning):

If the symptoms your child is experiencing seem to be developmentally inappropriate for his or her age, it can only help to get a professional opinion. There is no one test to diagnose ADHD, so consult a profesional to learn more. If your child is diagnosed, rest assured that it is a very treatable diagnosis!


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