Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, also known as ADHD, appears to be as prevalent as chickenpox.  Every child seems to have it and every parent/teacher complains about it. As soon as a child demonstrates a difficulty with sitting quietly still or appears distracted, even slightly, everyone points to ADHD.  It’s become the excuse for bad behavior, a lack of understanding, and poor child management.  Of course, I’m not saying every child diagnosed with ADHD has been falsely identified.  What I am saying is that we all need to be more aware of what it actually is vs what is expected from a child of certain ages.  We all think we know what ADHD looks like but do we truly understand the disorder?  If you are adamant that you understand ADHD, still please review this info to see if you are correct.


Remember: Age is another important factor to consider and a normal activity level for a 5 year old is very different than a normal activity level of a 15 year old.



Instances of Normal Child Activity   Instances of actual Hyperactivity
  • Having a high-energy level at times but is not always prevalent in certain settings
  • Becoming fidgety or wiggly after having to sit for several minutes but can be easily redirected. (Especially if he/she is not used to just sitting)
  • Becoming fidgety or “playing” with items on occasions
  • Enjoys climbing on playground equipment. Typically, won’t try to climb on non-playground equipment after he/she has been told not to do so.
  • Shifting and small movements while remaining seated during carpet time.  (As seen typically in kindergarten and sometimes 1st grade classroom).
  • Chooses to leave parts of projects unfinished for a set amount of time.
  • Generally, sits through meals, but may get up occasionally.
  • Constantly having a high-energy level regardless of setting
  • Constantly in motion (shaking his/her leg, etc) and exhibits extreme difficulty staying seated. Very difficult to redirect
  • Constantly fidgety or “playing” with items in his/her desk or tapping.
  • Appears to be compelled to climb inappropriately in/on both items and settings, such as in stores, railings, furniture, etc.  This will occur even after he/she has been told not to do this.
  • Major movement while sitting on the carpet such as rolling around.  This student appears to require twice as much space as his/her peers.
  • Gets sidetracked during projects and forgets to come back and finish.
  • Gets up from the dinner table several times and has difficulty remaining in his seat while he eats. Again, in a constant state of motion.


Instances of Typical Child Inattention   Instances of Significant Inattention
  • Zoning out in activities that are not of interest to the child
  • Not paying attention to topics that are above this student’s level
  • Forgetting to complete a low interest assignment on occasions
  • Occasionally losing important items
  • Being messy and unorganized but can become more organized, within reason, when provided a structure and adult support.
  • Makes careless mistakes sometimes
  • Gets distracted when there is a lot of noise or an extreme change in the external stimuli.  Such as someone suddenly turns on the bright lights.
  • Child procrastinates to complete tasks.  He/she will respond to the adult request with reluctance.


  • Constantly zoning out in activities of high interest to the child (sports activities or favorite subjects)
  • Not paying attention, regardless of the topic or level.
  • Regularly forgetting to complete any assignment regardless of interest level.
  • Often losing any item
  • Appears to be constantly battling with messes in all areas, even when given organizational structure and adult support.
  • Constantly makes careless mistakes and is oblivious to these careless mistakes
  • Gets distracted easily with any noise.  Cannot filter past external stimuli of any kind.
  • Child needs to be reminded several times to complete each step of any task including the bedtime routine, despite doing this same routine constantly.  He/she will typically respond positively to the adult redirect without the reluctance.



Instances of Typical Child Impulsivity   Instances of Significant Impulsivity
  • Getting excited and occasionally shouting out an answer.
  • Says things without thinking on occasions.
  • Has trouble waiting his/her turn
  • Occasionally speaks out of turn when he/she has something important to say.
  • Occasionally makes choices that lack good judgment or that are considered “poor choices”.
  • Constantly forgetting to raise his hand and will blurt out answers loudly.
  • Constantly blurts out thoughts without thinking it through
  • Has extreme trouble waiting his/her turn in almost all settings.
  • Frequently interrupts others who are on the phone or are engaged in conversations.
  • Often in trouble for “acting without thinking.”


Author: Kelly Dale, School Psychologist



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