Is My Child High-Energy or ADHD?

Health Writer

Many parents are concerned their child might have ADHD because he or she is highly energetic.Hyperactivity is one of the main symptoms of ADHD. It is probably the best-known symptom, bringing images a young child who can’t sit still, is always running and barely stops to listen when talked to. Children with ADHD are sometimes described as “driven by a motor.” But it is important to remember that hyperactivity is just one symptom of ADHD, there are many other ways that ADHD appears in everyday life.

One of the other main symptoms of ADHD is inattention. Children with ADHD often have problems with organization. They might have difficulty following conversations or seem like they aren’t listening. They may not pay attention to detail or constantly lose items. They might be easily distracted or forgetful.

Another major component of ADHD is impulsiveness. Your child might often do things or act without thinking first. They might have a hard time considering consequences of their actions. They might interrupt others when talking or blurt out answers before a question is finished.

According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with ADHD a child must exhibit six symptoms of ADHD, and these symptoms must be present for at least six months. During an evaluation for ADHD, your doctor will also look at how much these symptoms impair your child’s life. He might ask for you and your child’s teacher to complete a questionnaire to find out if behaviors are interfering with learning, for example, if your child can’t sit still in class and misses important parts of lessons, his or her grades could suffer. The diagnostic criteria also requires that a child have significant difficulty in two areas of life - home, school, work or social settings.

Because almost all children exhibit some of the symptoms of ADHD from time to time, it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in young children. Toddlers are known for being highly active and having short attention spans. Other children are often naturally highly energetic but have the ability to settle down and pay attention when necessary. Your pediatrician will look at your child’s behaviors and compare them to other children the same age and developmental stage. He will also want to know whether these behaviors are new or if they have persisted for many months, for example, a child who has recently experienced a death or divorce in the family may have trouble concentrating, but this would be more situational than chronic and persistent.

Some of the early signs of ADHD include:

  • Inability to sustain attention, even for a few minutes
  • Constantly distracted by sights and sounds
  • Difficulty sustaining eye contact
  • Able to pay attention to certain high interest things
  • Able to stay on task in high energy level tasks
  • Excessively hyperactive
  • Always in motion
  • Lack of interest in reading, sitting on laps or cuddling
  • Difficulty calming down once overexcited
  • Highly impulsive
  • Accident prone
  • Difficulty sleeping

While being “highly energetic” alone might not signal hyperactivity, if you have concerns about your child, the best course of action is to talk with your family doctor or pediatrician. A complete evaluation often includes a physical examination, questionnaires completed by parents and teachers or other caregivers and observation of the child’s behaviors. At this time, there is no laboratory test to diagnose ADHD although brain scans have shown some differences in the brain chemistry and activity in those with ADHD.

For more information:

Managing Hyperactivity in Children with ADHD

10 Ways to Help Reduce Hyperactivity in Children with ADHD

Is Sugar to Blame for Hyperactivity?

ADHD Symptoms Series: Hyperactivity