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What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

ADHD refers to a pattern of ongoing, long-standing (“chronic”) behaviour disorders that have three core symptoms:

  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity
  • inattention

These are defined as “disorders” based on the child’s stage of development. No one expects much quiet activity, impulse control, or attention span from the average, normal 2-year-old. But by age 5 or 6, it is expected that the child is beginning to regulate his activity level, control his behaviour, and attend to tasks. The ADHD child has not achieved these capacities. And the degree to which each of these symptoms show themselves can vary greatly from child to child.

The problems that these disorders create show up in all areas of the child’s life from home to school to social settings. It is no surprise, then, that ADHD has been shown to have long-term adverse effects on social-emotional development, school performance, and vocational success.

Children with ADHD experience an inability to sit still and pay attention in class and the negative consequences of such behaviour. They experience peer rejection and engage in a broad array of disruptive behaviours. Their academic and social difficulties have far-reaching and adverse long-term consequences. These children have higher injury rates.

As they grow older, children with unrecognized/untreated ADHD are more prone to experience substance abuse, gang activity, other antisocial activities, and other conduct disorders. The symptoms of significant ADHD persist into adolescent years and very often into adulthood.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

The diagnostic criteria for ADHD are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, 4th ed. (DSM-IV-V), Copyright, American Psychiatric Association. All of the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity must have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with the developmental level of the child. For more, view our Clinical Evidence.


  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (for example, toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities


  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat