Updated 17 July 2017

Does my child have ADHD?

ADHD is very common these days, but it is also often misdiagnosed. Before rushing off to a doctor have a look through the questions below and see how your child fits into the ADHD spectrum.


STEP 1: Understand the important background information

A quiet dreamer and an overactive child may suffer from the same problems. This is how it works: according to the latest international findings, ADHD may manifest in three main symptoms. These are:

  1. Struggling to concentrate or sustain concentration

  2. Hyperactivity

  3. Impulsivity

The main symptoms may occur on their own or in combination so there are basically three groups:

Attention distraction without hyperactivity (ADD). This usually affects girls who're likely to be quiet dreamers such as Anneke.

Attention deficit with mainly impulsivity and hyperactivity (ADHD). This usually manifests in very active boys such as Peter.

A combination type where the child has definite problems with concentration and is also impulsive and hyperactive.

The problems don't end here. On average 40% of children with ADD or ADHD also have reading and learning issues, depression or other problems.

Read: What causes ADHD?

STEP 2: Know the symptoms

Does your child suffer from any of the following concentration symptoms:

1) Struggle to pay proper attention to finer details and often make unnecessary mistakes doing homework and tasks around the house?

2) Struggle to concentrate on one task?

3) Often not pay attention or listen when you talk directly to her?

4) Struggle to complete school assignments, duties around the house or a series of tasks, even though she understands what she should do and is not rebellious?

5) Behave in a disorganised and muddled way?

6) Avoid or hate tasks where she has to think a lot?

7) Lose things required to complete a task, such as pencils, books and equipment?

8) Become easily distracted by things that have nothing to do with the task at hand such as a dog barking, a cellphone ringing or the sound of music?

9) Become forgetful when it comes to routine tasks?

10) If you've answered "yes" to six of these questions your child may be one of the "quiet dreamers". Quiet dreamers are disorganised and often live in a world of their own. They struggle to plan ahead and complete tasks.

If you've answered "yes" to six of these questions your child may be one of the "quiet dreamers". Quiet dreamers are disorganised and often live in a world of their own. They struggle to plan ahead and complete tasks.

Read: Does ADHD occur in adults as well?

Now answer these questions on hyperactivity and

Does your child suffer from any of the following hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms:

 Forever fidget or have constantly busy hands or feet? Struggle to remain seated in the      classroom?

  Run around, climb and clamber more than other children?

 Struggle to take part in any activity without screaming or talking at the top of his voice?

  Find it difficult to remain silent or talk softly while playing or doing something?

  Act as though he is being propelled by a battery?

 Talk incessantly?

  Spontaneously give answers before questions have been asked?

 Struggle to wait his turn or take turns at all?

 Often interrupt conversations or games by beginning to talk or forcing himself on others?

If you've answered "yes" to six of these questions your child may suffer from attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These children often pose a danger to themselves because they act so impulsively. (The last three questions refer to impulsivity.)

If you've answered "yes" to the same number of questions in each section your child's lack of concentration and hyperactivity are equally prominent. He probably fidgets constantly and does everything except what he's supposed to be doing.

Six "yes" answers or if you are in doubt mean you should take your child to a specialist rather than ignore the condition.

If you're concerned but have answered "no" to most questions your child is probably an introverted quiet type.

Read: ADHD kids are missing DNA

STEP 3: Help the specialists

There is no such thing as a single or simple test for ADD or ADHD. When you decide to see specialists - who should be a child psychiatrist or paediatrician in collaboration with a clinical psychologist - they should evaluate and examine your child in your presence.

Attention deficit disorder is complex and the diagnosis is based on a specific and thorough medical examination and evaluation. ADD and ADHD are about chemical imbalances in the brain that have to be adjusted. The complex diagnosis cannot be made by a clinical psychologist or teacher alone. Not even general practitioners have the expertise to do so.

In making a diagnosis, a psychiatrist will need some information based on your child’s history. Do you know the answers to the questions below?

-  Did the first signs manifest before your child's seventh birthday?

-  Have at least six of the symptoms been present for a minimum of six months?

-  Are the symptoms visible in at least two places, for example at home and at school?

-  Do the symptoms affect your child's school achievements or his interaction with friends or other people?

Read: Can ADHD be treated?

STEP 4: Be more observant

If your child has one of the following problems treatment and teaching methods may be used to help him:

Learning problems. Reading and learning problems and dyslexia are six times more prevalent among children with ADD or ADHD than among other children.

Oppositional defiant disorder and disruptive behaviour disorder. Your child may act destructively, oppose authority, argue a lot with you or his teachers, lose his temper easily, taunt others or refuse to obey rules.

Depression. These children often have violent tantrums. They are also often sad and weepy, don't mix easily with other children, don't want to eat, are derogatory about themselves and often have problems sleeping.

Anxiety. About one third of children with ADD or ADHD also suffer from anxiety.

Tourette's syndrome. About 75% of children with Tourette's also have ADD or ADHD. Tourette's characterised by repetitive, involuntary mannerisms such as a continuous contraction of facial muscles (facial tics) or the sudden utterance of sounds or swearwords.
An upset child from Shutterstock

Read more:

How to take control of ADHD?
Parenting a child with ADHD


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Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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