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What’s The Difference Between Child and Adult ADHD?

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults, It is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that can impact a person’s work or school, and social relationships. People with ADHD typically have problems with memory, attention, and executive function, which is our brain’s organization system or task management centre. Estimates vary by group, but ADHD is thought to affect as much as 13% of the population, and is likely a result of genetic factors, as family history of ADHD is common.


What are the symptoms of ADHD in kids?

There are three subtypes of ADHD:

  • predominantly inattentive
  • predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
  • combined inattentive/hyperactive

The second two subtypes are most commonly diagnosed in childhood, as hyperactivity tends to decrease with age as children grow. Diagnosis is most common among school-aged children as inattention starts to affect school performance and hyperactivity may cause disruptions to the classroom.

In children hyperactivity may present as:

  • Fidgeting or squirming
  • Running and having trouble sitting still
  • Constantly being on-the-go;

Inattention may appear as:

  •  Losing things, 
  • Avoiding things they don’t like, 
  • Appearing as if they are not listening

Impulsivity may look like:

  • Interrupting others
  • Not waiting their turn
  • Acting before thinking.


What are the symptoms of ADHD in adults?

In adults, inattention becomes the more common symptom of ADHD, while hyperactivity declines or is turned inward. Adults with ADHD may struggle with school and job performance, show more risky behaviour, and may have more challenging romantic relationships. In adults, hyperactivity may present as feeling restless, trouble sitting through meetings, talking excessively, or feeling easily bored; inattention may appear as disorganization, losing things, making careless mistakes, or being forgetful; while impulsivity may look like risky behaviour, including risky sexual activity, traffic violations and substance use.

Do adults with ADHD have it as a child?

It used to be believed that ADHD was only a childhood disorder, yet it is now recognized that ADHD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition, though one in three children with ADHD will show remission in their symptoms by adulthood with effective management.


What is the difference between ADHD in children and adults? 

ADHD symptoms may manifest differently at different stages across a person’s life. Children usually show more apparent signs of ADHD, such as constant fidgeting, while adults may have learned to cope or “mask” their symptoms through social conditioning over time in order to function in daily life. Adults may learn to function at work while others areas, like their relationships, may suffer. The divorce rate is twice as high in relationships where one partner has ADHD. 

How are kids with ADHD different and how does this compare to neurotypical child behaviour? 

In young children, poor inhibition, high activity levels and impulsivity are quite common as their executive functioning is still developing, but these same behaviours in children with ADHD may interfere with their school performance, result in more injury from risky behaviour and are more difficult for them to control. Neurotyical children may show high levels of activity, impulsivity and inattention at times, but the biggest difference with these kids is that they have some level of control over their behaviour, while children with ADHD typically feel as if they cannot control how they behave. They describe feeling “driven by a motor”. Children with ADHD also more frequently have comorbid conditions like anxiety, oppositional-defiance, and learning and communication difficulties.


What are typical treatments for ADHD in adults and children?

Treatment for ADHD is typically a combination of pharmacotherapy (e.g. ritalin, adderall) and psychotherapy, including CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and coaching. For children, they often benefit from parent coaching as well – teaching parents how to handle emotional outbursts, low frustration tolerance, stubbornness, conflicts with parents and siblings, social skills and low self-esteem. Parents can advocate for their children at school to enlist their teacher’s support in setting up the right environment and routine to set their students up for success.


For more information and resources check out: 


Centre for ADHD awareness Canada:

Attention Deficit Disorder Association:

About the Author

Ninat Friedland

Registered Psychotherapist
Ninat has worked with individuals with a variety of emotional and mental health concerns including stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. Her primary areas of interest are in women’s health (fertility, pregnancy, motherhood and sexuality) and interpersonal relationships. Ninat has specialized training in art therapy, mindfulness, narrative therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.