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The differences between ADHD in Adults and Children

children running in the park

ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurological condition that affects people across the lifespan. There are however different ways that the symptoms of this condition can present themselves in children compared to adults.

There are three different types of ADHD, ADHD Inattentive type, ADHD impulsivity/hyperactive type and ADHD combined.

The predominantly inattentive presentation (formerly ADD) is categorised by symptoms related to an inability to pay attention. This can result in an inability to stay focused. Those with this type of ADHD may not present in a way that is hyperactive.

The predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation is categorised by symptoms that are related to hyperactivity and impulsivity. This may present itself in symptoms such as fidgeting, talking excessively, interrupting others, running, jumping or moving their body more than others and not being tired after activities that may otherwise exhaust others. Those with this type of ADHD may not present with inattentive symptoms.

The combined presentation involves having both of the above symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention.

Often the biggest differences between how ADHD presents itself in children compared to adults involves that adults and children may express and experience hyperactivity and impulsivity differently.

Children often are fidgety, move around in their seat and get up when they shouldn’t. They may also feel the need to run around, jump or climb on things, whereas adults will often feel restless and fidget with their hands or feet which can present as more subtle.

What does ADHD look like in children?


  • Difficulty completing or staying focused on tasks

  • Appearing to not listen when being spoken to

  • Difficulty remembering things

  • Ability to follow instructions

  • Not paying attention to detail

  • Making careless errors

  • Often loosing things

  • Being forgetful


  • Fidgety

  • Restless

  • Easily bored

  • Sitting still

  • Keeping quiet for extended periods of time

  • Making careless mistakes

  • Climbing, jumping, or running in excess

  • Hard to become tired

  • Appears always on the go

  • Acting without thought

  • Difficulty waiting their turn

  • Unable to stay seated when it would be appropriate to do so

What does ADHD look like in adults?

Often adults with ADHD have reported that symptoms are less severe than during childhood including a reduction in hyperactive symptoms. However there are other ways that adults can present as being hyperactive that do not present the same as children, for example:

Hyperactivity in adults can present in the following ways:

  • Feelings of restlessness

  • Talking excessively

  • Interrupting others in conversation

  • Finishing other people’s sentences

  • Difficulty waiting ones turn

  • Trouble staying still and relaxing

  • Trouble unwinding

  • Acting as if they are “run by a motor”

Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with organisation

  • Difficulty prioritising or getting started on tasks

  • Forgetting to complete tasks

  • Issues around emotional regulation

  • Low frustration tolerance

  • Issues with impulsivity

  • Often distractible

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