Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood.

In fact, we often incorrectly identify difficult children as having ADHD and overlook those who do suffer from it. With all the confusion surrounding the disorder, how does a parent of a “wild child” know whether to attribute the fidgety behavior to ADHD or a mere lack of patience and focus?

The first point to consider is the child’s age and stage of development. Is his or her behavior out of the normal range? If so, certain signs can help you spot potential ADHD. In his article “Untangling the Myths of Attention Disorder,” Perri Klass, M.D., lists three groups of symptoms: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

Inattentive symptoms:

-Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork
-Has difficulty keeping attention during tasks or play
-Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
-Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or chores
-Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
-Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork)
-Often loses toys, assignments, pencils, or books needed for tasks or activities
-Is easily distracted
-Is often forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactivity symptoms:

-Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
-Leaves seat when remaining seated is expected
-Runs about or climbs in inappropriate situations
-Has difficulty playing quietly
-Is often “on the go,” talks excessively

Impulsivity symptoms:

-Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
-Has difficulty awaiting turn
-Interrupts or intrudes on others (butts into conversations or games

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers three guidelines for diagnosing ADHD:

1. Children should have at least six inattentive symptoms or six hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, with some symptoms present before age seven.
2. The symptoms must be present for at least six months, be seen in two or more settings, and not be caused by another problem.
3. The symptoms must be severe enough to cause significant difficulties in many settings, including home, school, and in relationships with peers.

Any child who exhibits these symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor.