Official and Unofficial ADHD Symptoms

Understanding the Spectrum of ADHD Symptoms

ADHD symptoms often encompass inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, but can vary widely in presentation and intensity, sometimes remaining masked for years.

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Tayler Hackett

Mental Health Writer and ADHD Expert
In this Article
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Official ADHD Symptoms

I wrote this article to shed light on ADHD symptoms in an exhaustive manner to hopefully bring answers to fellow ADHD brains that are as confused as I was just a few years ago.

Getting my official diagnosis was a real blessing and I wish I would have known earlier in my life.

I can’t get back in time and let myself know... but I can raise awareness around ADHD to hopefully help people get diagnosed sooner.

If you have general questions about ADHD and/or ADD, I encourage you to read this article where I answer all Frequently Asked Questions about ADHD & ADD. It goes into details about the different types of ADHD, ADHD in childhood vs Adulthood and everything else you should know about ADHD.

Now that you know everything there is to know about ADHD, “the disorder”, you probably have even more questions in your head.
Ok, some people's brains differ from others, but what does that mean? What is it like living with ADHD? How can I tell if I, or someone I know has ADHD?

Read on, and by the end of this article I promise you’ll have a better idea of what ADHD symptoms look like.

ADHD is a relatively new condition, especially in terms of the amount of research that has been conducted on the topic.That’s why it is still misunderstood, even within the medical community.

In the article I mentioned above we detailed the symptoms of all 3 types of ADHD as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) written by The American Psychiatric Association (APA).

It turns out that even the latest version of the DSM falls short of covering all ADHD symptoms. But before I detail all the unofficial ADHD traits you should know let’s start by going over the official ADHD symptoms according to the APA.

Official Symptoms for the Inattentive Type of ADHD

ADHD is considered predominantly inattentive in adults and kids who show the following symptoms but that are not otherwise hyperactive.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic criteria, there are nine official symptoms associated with the inattention characterization of ADHD.

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #1: “Easily Distracted”

ADHD Symptom Easily Distracted

You might have asked yourself why am I getting distracted so easily?

I’m wondering this myself while I’m writing this article, why am I constantly checking on my phone and refreshing my Email Inbox. 🙈
Well the reason may be that you have ADHD. 😉

Getting easily distracted is something that a lot of people with ADHD experience on a daily basis. Why?

Because our ADHD brains manage attention differently.

That’s not all, we can also be distracted by our environment because of sensory sensitivities.

For example noises in the background like siren alarms or cars racing when you live in the city or strong smells of someone cooking nearby.😟

Finally, if ADHD of the combined type (with Inattentive & Hyperactive symptoms) may experience “mental hyperactivity” which can be very distracting. Try staying focused on your task at hand when you have hundreds of thoughts crossing your mind every minute. 😅

To put yourself in my shoes, imagine trying to meditate for the first time when you have ADHD 😂

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #2: “Seems not listening”

Listening is often viewed as a passive activity, but it’s actually an active process.

You have to make a conscious effort to hear what someone’s saying and appear to be actively listening so that person can feel understood.

That can be difficult for people with ADHD that have trouble concentrating and have a brain that processes information differently. 😌

I can’t tell you the amount of times my partner has been frustrated with me because I did not appear to be listening. 😞

ADHD Symptom Not Listening

I might have been on my phone, or trying to do something else (like cooking or cleaning) but I was not looking him in the eyes and nodding like what he would expect from me. Why?

Because the way my brain works, it is actually easier for me to focus on what he is saying if I’m using another part of my brain doing something else.

So if you’ve been through something similar, rest assured that you are not alone! 😊

Share this article with your significant other so they can learn that you are actually trying to listen, they need to accommodate the way your brain works.

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #3: “Difficulties with Organization”

One of the most common and debilitating symptoms for adults with ADHD is severe and chronic disorganization.

Needed items buried in piles of clutter, unpaid bills, unfinished projects… Does that sound familiar?

ADHD Symptoms Trouble with Organization

Unfortunately I know too many people with ADHD that lost their jobs due to misunderstandings related to their ADHD traits.  😞

Living with ADHD can feel chaotic, like living life in “Hard Mode”.

Intelligent, creative, and otherwise successful individuals feeling overwhelmed and exhausted because they feel out of control.😌

Having everything in the right place, keeping track of tasks and prioritizing them logically can be a challenge for everyone. When you have ADHD it can feel impossible.

So make sure that if you know someone that has ADHD you try to support them, because some things are just harder for us to manage.

This is why it is so important, as a community that we support each other and share ways to manage our traits to thrive with ADHD. 🙏

I’ve created a set of 8 Organization Tools to help deal with my own disorganization, if you think they could be useful, you can get them here. The tools I used are:

  • ☀️ Daily Organizer
  • ✅ “Try to do” chores list
  • 😃 Mood tracker
  • ✔️ Habits tracker
  • ⭐️ Weekly Organizer
  • ⏺ Grocery list
  • ♨️ Meal planner
  • ✨ ADHD Meds Tracker

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #4: “Difficulties paying attention”

The ADHD brain has its own set of priorities.

What are you most likely to be paying attention to? What is of interest to you.

That means that what is perceived by people around you as very important (like a project at work or an assignment at school) may not be prioritized by your brain.

If said project or assignment is boring to you, you’ll find a million ways to shift your attention to something more interesting like your Instagram Feed or Youtube Recommendations.

Is Instagram more important than work? Of course not, but this is how an ADHD brain works. It will find a way to justify why the important task is not that important, and why you should do the rewarding task instead.

Studies show that ADHD brains are typically low on Dopamine, so we are more likely to do tasks that will generate Dopamine in our brains. Meaning that we tend to prioritize fun and rewarding tasks,

That’s how getting likes on Instagram can feel more important than a work assignment, because technically that’s what is going to provide the best reward to the ADHD brain.

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #5: “Making Mistakes”

As a child did you ever note the wrong date for when homework was due, or do the wrong exercises? Did you ever make social “errors” because you had trouble reading non-verbal cues?

As an adult, you might zone out at critical moments causing careless mistakes like missing an interstate exit, sending an email to the wrong person, or writing wrong information on the wrong line of paperwork.

We are all humans, we all make mistakes… Only some of us seem to make more mistakes than others 🙈

ADHD Symptoms Making Mistakes

When you consider that two main ADHD characteristics are inattention and impulsivity it is no surprise that it can lead to a lot of mistakes.

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #6: “Difficulties with Instructions”

It’s very common for people with ADHD to get overwhelmed by instructions.

Verbal instructions especially can be very confusing. They require focus to not only listen (and we know how hard that can be) but also retain information at the same time.

I’ve always been amazed at tourists asking for directions, thank god for my smartphone because there is no way I would be getting where I’m supposed to if I had to rely on someone’s verbal instructions.

It’s like starting a new job and getting introduced to 30 people in one day, there is no way I’ll remember any of their names. 🙈

Written instructions are not necessarily much better, especially if they are complex and drawn out, you can lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish. Like have you ever struggled building Ikea Furniture? 🙋

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #7: “Avoid Difficult Tasks”

Complex tasks are scary when you have ADHD, just thinking about starting a complex task is daunting.

It is hard for our brains to comprehend them, we need to break them into smaller sets of tasks. But that’s very hard for us to do, so…

I can’t do this complex task because it needs to be broken down into smaller subsets of tasks, but I can’t do that because it is a complex task that I feel like I can’t tackle.

The result can be a never-ending cycle of procrastination.

Your Brain always try to avoid an unpleasant task

The more we fail to complete complex tasks, the more we avoid them.

What many don’t think about as well is that some people with ADHD are perfectionists (another trait that does not sound like ADHD but that can be).

ADHD perfectionists are the most likely to avoid difficult tasks, because on top of everything I just described they also feel the need to have all the answers before they can start thinking about said task, when really they should probably just get started and "fake it until they make it".

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #8: “Lose Things”

ADHD Symptoms Losing things

Everyone loses something sometime, but for someone with ADHD, misplacing things is almost a guarantee.

Every ADHD symptom affecting your life is due to the way your ADHD brain works and losing things is no different.

Losing things is usually the natural result of being easily distracted, having difficulties paying attention, making mistakes and being disorganized.

Picture this, you’re coming home from a walk, you are listening to a podcast, your house is a mess, you get a call from your mom, guess what happens? You’ll misplace your keys and it’ll take forever to find them.

Losing things does not have to be a life sentence though, there are ways you can get organized and manage your ADHD brain.

For example I love following the Home Edit on Instagram, their Netflix show is fire as well💥.

They reorganize homes to match with the way we think to ensure that even when we get distracted and/or overwhelmed we can still put things where they are supposed to be. This way we stay organized and we don’t lose things anymore!

If you’ve never lost anything in your life, it does not mean you do not have ADHD, you may even have this exact trait but you could be overcompensating to ensure it does not happen.
Overcompensating & Masking are very common behaviors for people with ADHD.

So if you never lose your things but you are constantly checking your bag or your pockets for them...

If you need a security camera to see if you closed your garage door.

If you have trackers on every single of your devices...

You might be compensating for your natural ADHD tendencies.

Inattentive ADHD Symptom #9: “Forgetfulness”

It’s human to forget things sometimes, but for those with ADHD, forgetfulness tends to be a lot more prominent.  

That includes routinely forgetting where you put something or what important dates you need to remember.

Forgetfulness can affect careers and relationships.

If someone is unfamiliar with ADHD forgetfulness can be confused with carelessness or a lack of intelligence.

This is why a lot of people with ADHD get scarred for life -often during childhood- when their forgetfulness resulted in embarrassment.

Unfortunately most people with ADHD are still not getting officially diagnosed so they lack a level of understanding of themselves.

To protect themselves from it happening again they will overcompensate and set tons of reminders on their calendars and/or alarms on their phones.

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Official Symptoms for the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type of ADHD

ADHD is considered predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive in adults and kids who show the following symptoms but that are not otherwise Inattentive.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic criteria, there are nine official symptoms associated with the Hyperactive-Impulsive characterization of ADHD.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #1: “Fidgeting”

Doing two things at once actually helps the ADHD brain focus on a primary task.

So if you know someone that likes to pace or doodle while on the phone, or chew gum while taking a test, you may know someone with ADHD.

An effective fidget doesn’t distract you from your primary task because it is something you are not actively thinking about.

Fidgeting a lot with your hands, regularly playing with pens, often shaking/moving your legs can definitely be a tell-tale sign that you have ADHD.

ADHD and Fidgeting

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #2: “Leave Seat Often”

When sitting still is way too boring, so much so that you are feeling trapped on your chair, you probably have ADHD.

You feel the need to move, so you’ll come up with excuses to get up, like asking for bathroom breaks.

This ADHD trait results in you often leaving your seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.

As adults we face a lot of situations where we can’t just get up and go and we tend to do something else instead to contain that urge like bouncing our legs or staring at our phones.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #3: “Feeling Restless”

When you have ADHD, you may feel like your internal motor won’t shut off.

Your yearning to keep moving and doing things can lead to frustration when you cannot do them immediately. That leads to restlessness, which can cause frustration and anxiety.

Feeling your restless mind that does not seem to stop can be overwhelming, especially when focusing on the wrong things.

As your mind race through thoughts it can get stuck on worrisome events and scary thoughts that lead to anxiety

That feeling of restlessness may result in some of the other symptoms mentioned here, like:

  • Moving around frequently
  • Tapping your hands or feet
  • Squirming in your seat
  • Finding it difficult to sit still

Believe it or not, too much energy can be exhausting! You can feel the constant need to accomplish something and be productive but then be extremely disappointed when you fall short.

When you are a combined type ADHD this can happen a lot, where you have bursts of energy and productivity, but then get distracted and lose your focus.

People with ADHD that feel restless also often struggle with sleep. Your mind unfortunately may not stop even at night in your bed.

The worse is when your body is also restless, you may then experience the Restless Leg Syndrome that will impair your ability to sleep.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #4: “Difficulty to Relax”

ADHD Symptoms Trouble Relaxing

The difficulty to relax is another common Hyperactive-Impulsive trait. It is often linked to the feeling restless trait which is often the main cause of this inability to relax.

On its own the difficulty to relax manifests itself in people with ADHD by always being vigilant.

For instance every time I hear a “suspect” noise my mind goes right to the worst case scenarios.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I thought I heard gunshots, or I overreacted when I heard someone yell.

I had to turn off my Security System's notifications because I would get scared to death at night when my cat would set off my motion detector 🙈

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #5: “Always on the go”

Being “always on the go” is a sentence often used during the official diagnosis process, but what does it mean exactly?

It means that you are bored when you’re not busy, and that your brain will constantly push you to do something else instead.

Combine that with the fact that you probably have the other symptoms listed here, you are likely not able to sit still for a long period of time.

This means that you are not going to be able to stay focused on one task, and that you’ll constantly be moving around alternating between multiple tasks.

For example you are unlikely to sit still through a 2-hour long movie. Instead when you are watching a movie, you spend some time on your phone, you’ll prepare some snacks to eat and maybe do something else while watching (like playing a video game, doing a coloring book or doing a puzzle)

Being always on the go also manifests itself in your vacation patterns. If you are the lounging at the beach all day type of person, you are not “always on the go”.
If you are constantly looking for new adventures, exploring new areas, discovering new places, trying new things that’s a different story.

For example if you are planning a 8 day trip and you are staying in 7 different places chances are you have ADHD 😅

When change is exciting and is driving your decisions you’ll tend to be “always on the go”.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #6: “Talk a lot”

When you have ADHD you’re used to hearing you are “too much”.

You may move “too much”, worry “too much”, forget “too much”, get distracted “too much”, and of course, talk “too much”.

This overactivity and constant struggle with self-control can be very frustrating and lead to social anxiety. 😞

You may then overcompensate and refrain yourself from speaking up at all worrying about being out of line.

The truth is you are passionate and you have many things to say, especially about what you care about.

Because your brain is restless, it is moving so fast that you’re trying to keep up with it by talking as fast as you can.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #7: “Blurt out answers”

ADHD Symptoms Blurt Out Answers

Blurting out whatever comes to mind, regardless of timing, or appropriateness, is a hallmark of ADHD.

Having ADHD might explain why people don’t have a filter when they speak their minds.

It is important to get along with people, or you’ll end up isolated and socially anxious.

Why do we sometimes blurt out answers?

There’s a few reasons:
-We wanted to speak before we forget our thought

→ Our minds are racing so fast that if we miss our chance that great idea might be gone

-We can’t control our mouth

→ Because of ADHD there is already a lot we constantly have to worry about to have an “acceptable” social behavior. Sometimes there is just too much to think about at the same time and we lose “self control”

-We are impulsive & impatient (we have difficulties to wait)

→ If we feel like we are misunderstood, or that we have something to say that would make a big impact in the conversation we feel a strong need to say it that may not always be contained.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #8: “Difficulties to wait”

Because of my attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder, I get frustrated when I’m forced to do nothing — which is what waiting is.

I also get frustrated if I can’t complete a task within a short timeframe. I know that the longer I spend on a task, the more likely I am to get distracted from it.

To sum up waiting = frustration.

Unfortunately there are a lot of things we have to wait for in life, and having difficulties to wait, and being patient in general can have a negative impact in your life.

For example, I hate waiting so much that I always chose to avoid long lines, no matter how much I may want or need what I should be waiting for.

That lack of patience will make you always choose short term gratification over anything else.
That can be really bad, for instance in the US if you ever want to retire one day you can’t focus on the short term, you have to think about the power of compounding interest.

For example setting aside a few dollars a month at 18 is so valuable, yet it can be so infuriating to do when you have to comprehend that you are technically “losing” these dollars for 40+ years before you can get them back at their compounded value.

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptom #9: “Interrupt others”

When you have ADHD you may have difficulty controlling the impulse to jump in and interrupt. As we discussed in the previous traits, the way the ADHD hyperactive impulsive brain works it generates strong instincts that are tougher to control.

This is why that impulsivity that causes you to interrupt others is stronger than your will to have good manners.

When someone’s speaking, you have to try to focus on waiting until your interlocutor ends his sentence before you jump in.

This can be extremely difficult, especially when you are with close friends or family members, because you are more likely to be yourself and not overcompensate.

Of course these are the people you spend most of your time with, so try to be mindful otherwise you could hurt their feelings.

It happens unfortunately too often, and after the fact the people that suffer from ADHD are more hurt because they blame themselves on top of suffering the loss.

ADHD Symptoms FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

I have experienced a number of ADHD symptoms listed above, do I have ADHD?

The best way to confirm if you have a neurodivergent brain is to consult with your mental health professional. An ADHD diagnosis is facilitated by mental health experts and they assess you and your experiences related to ADHD.

How many symptoms of ADHD should I have to be able to be diagnosed with it?

According to the DSM-V for Mental Health Disorders, out of nine symptoms for Inattentive ADHD or Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD, a person should experience six or more symptoms for an ADHD diagnosis.

I notice lately that I have been experiencing these ADHD symptoms, can I have ADHD diagnosis because of that?

There are other factors that are often looked when it comes to ADHD diagnosis. Some ADHD symptoms should be present before 12 years old and should have been experienced for the previous six months. Plus, the disruption of these symptoms should be present in two or more settings (such as school, home or work, with friends and relatives or in other activities)

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Find out everything you need to know about ADHD Symptoms

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