What is AD/HD and how is it diagnosed?

Date Updated

AD/HD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention. ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are terms for conditions now included within the diagnosis of AD/HD, which is divided into three subtypes:

  • AD/HD Predominantly Inattentive Type
  • AD/HD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
  • AD/HD Predominantly Combined Type

Symptoms of inattention include the following:

  • difficulty sustaining attention in work and play activities
  • failing to pay attention to details and making careless mistakes
  • failure to finish work or chores
  • losing things and being forgetful in daily activities
  • failure to listen when spoken to
  • avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort

Symptoms of hyperactivity include the following:

  • fidgeting and squirming
  • leaving one's seat in situations where remaining seated is expected
  • running and climbing excessively at inappropriate times
  • difficulty playing quietly
  • excessive talking and rushing about

Symptoms of impulsivity include the following:

  • blurting out answers before hearing the complete question
  • difficulty waiting for a turn
  • interrupting and intruding on others

There is no medical test for AD/HD. A medical doctor, psychologist, or other trained clinician can make a diagnosis after a thorough evaluation that includes interviews with parents, a medical history, and observations of behavior. Typically, AD/HD is diagnosed only if symptoms first appeared before age seven; have persisted for at least six months; occur in two or more settings; negatively impact social, academic, or occupational functioning; and cannot be accounted for by another disability.

Some students with AD/HD will need accommodations to succeed. For information on accommodations, see What are typical accommodations for a high school student with AD/HD? For more information about AD/HD, consult the National Resource Center on AD/HD, the Attention Deficit Disorder Resources website, or DO-IT resources for learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder.