Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavior disorder that causes symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, all of which range in severity and interfere with regular daily activities.
ADHD usually develops in childhood but can continue into adulthood. People with this condition often struggle with impulsive behaviors, being too active, and finding it hard to pay attention. ADHD doesn’t look the same in everyone. The type of ADHD a person has depends on the primary symptoms and behaviors they exhibit.
There are three major ways in which ADHD symptoms can present. These ways were previously referred to as “subtypes” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) but are called “presentations” in the current DSM-5. We'll use them synonymously here.
The Three ADHD Subtypes
As all ADHD symptoms vary from person to person, it's important to learn about the characteristics of each presentation so you can recognize which one you or a loved one might be dealing with.
- Inattentive: The main symptoms of this type include a lack of focus, frequent inattention, and disorganization.
- Impulsive/Hyperactive: People dealing with this subtype show no inattentiveness, but are restless and fidgety.
- Combined: This is the most common ADHD subtype, in which individuals show symptoms of the other two types.
Inattentive Type ADHD
People with this presentation do not show any signs of hyperactivity or impulsivity. They instead tend to have difficulty maintaining focus and being attentive. It’s often difficult for people with inattentive type ADHD to pay attention and engage in organized activities for long periods of time.
Some behaviors and symptoms people with this presentation of ADHD might exhibit include:
- Short attention span
- Easily distracted
- Unable to pay close attention to details
- Difficulty listening when being spoken to
- Forgetful when performing everyday activities
- Often careless and constantly losing things like keys, books, and phones
- Struggles with engaging in organized tasks and activities
- Finds it difficult to follow instructions
Impulsive/Hyperactive Type ADHD
People with this form of the condition will exhibit hyperactive and impulsive behaviors, but no symptoms of inattention. You’d find people with this form of the condition moving around constantly and fidgeting excessively.
This presentation is typically characterized by the following symptoms of impulsivity:
- Interrupting or intruding on others
- Acting without thinking
- Being impatient and having difficulty waiting their turn
- Blurting out the answer to a question before it has been completed
Symptoms of hyperactivity usually include the following behaviors:
- Talking excessively
- Being unable to focus on one task at a time
- Excessive fidgeting
- Being unable to engage in any activities quietly
Combined Type ADHD
This is the most common form of the condition. People with this type of ADHD experience a combination of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention symptoms.
A diagnosis of combined type ADHD in a child requires that six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity be present for at least six months. Those 17 years or older require five or more of each.
ADHD Combined Type
The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. However, current research shows that genetics might play a role in a person developing the condition. In other words, if you have a family history of the condition, then you may be more likely to develop it.
Children with ADHD have also been reported to have low levels of dopamine. While this might not be solely responsible for causing the condition, it is thought to be a contributing factor to the development of the brain disorder.
The condition may also contribute to the development of other conditions like anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse.
Causes and Risk Factors of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
If you suspect your child has ADHD, you will need to take them to a qualified pediatrician or mental health expert to get a diagnosis. They’ll typically ask for a detailed history of your child’s symptoms and put your child through a series of tests to observe their behaviors.
Medical experts use the DSM-5 criteria to make a conclusive diagnosis of ADHD. The manual details nine behaviors and symptoms for hyperactivity/impulsivity as well as nine behaviors and symptoms for inattention.
A child is diagnosed with ADHD when they display at least six of the behaviors and symptoms listed for either type. While an adult or teenager is required to exhibit at least five of these symptoms, the symptoms must also be so severe as to disrupt a person’s regular functioning.
Symptoms of ADHD can start to show between the ages of 3 and 6 and are often mistaken for bad behavior. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the condition may cause poor academic performance, difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, and anti-social behaviors.
ADHD is a genetic neurotype and does not need a cure. The struggles of ADHD are often caused by society not being made for an ADHD brain, rather than ADHD being a deficit in and of itself.
However, ADHD folks can still benefit from different strategies to adjust their lifestyle to better suit their neurotype.
ADHD is typically treated with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all form of treatment. Finding the ideal treatment for you or your child’s ADHD depends on many factors.
Your doctor will consider your or your child’s age, the severity of the symptoms, and medication intolerances before recommending a treatment plan. Treatment could include either one or a combination of the following options.
There are two types of medication typically used to treat ADHD: stimulant and non-stimulant.
- Stimulant medications: This is the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. Stimulants work by increasing the production of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These are chemical messengers that play a vital role in regulating thinking and attention. Some common examples are Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall (amphetamine), and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine).
- Non-stimulant medications: Non-stimulants might take a little longer than stimulants to work but are effective in improving focus and attention. They are typically recommended for people who experience intolerable side effects on stimulants. Examples include Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine), and Qelbree (viloxazine).
Parents of children with ADHD are usually advised to take behavior management classes to help their children with their ADHD symptoms instead of using a behavior therapist. The aim is to replace maladaptive behaviors with more helpful ones. This is done by monitoring their actions and engaging in practical tasks that can help children function more effectively in their environment.
However, behavior management is only one strategy of many for helping parents with their ADHD child, as well as ADHD adults. It is generally more helpful for ADHD kids and adults to adjust their lifestyle—such as setting different goals and using different strategies—in order to work with their brain rather than trying to train it to do something that it is not designed to do.
Other options that can be helpful include utilizing neurodiversity-affirming practices to develop self-regulation strategies, modifying environments to be supportive, and working with affirming healthcare practitioners.
It is also important to note that there is no therapy or treatment to "solve ADHD." Rather, depending on the concerns that are occurring, there are different treatment options that can solve those specific issues.
What Is Behavioral Therapy?
A Word From Verywell
Parenting a child with ADHD can present challenges, but appreciating a child's strengths and finding solutions to help them adapt to their environment can help parents and children cope more effectively. Practicing healthy habits like exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep is also important for managing symptoms of ADHD.
If you suspect you or your child is exhibiting symptoms of the condition, you should see a medical expert as soon as you can for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
de la Peña IC, Pan MC, Thai CG, Alisso T. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder predominantly inattentive subtype/presentation: research progress and translational studies. Brain Sci. 2020;10(5). doi:10.3390/brainsci10050292
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Revised September 2019.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Grimm O, Kranz TM, Reif A. Genetics of ADHD: What should the clinician know? Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2020;22(4):18. doi:10.1007/s11920-020-1141-x
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD. Reviewed September 21, 2020.
Wolraich ML, Hagan JF, Allan C, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2019;144(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2019-2528
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) Parenting a child with ADHD.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.
See Our Editorial Process
Meet Our Review Board
Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback!
What is your feedback?