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Understanding ADHD in Children and Young Adults

ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experience

Mental health awareness has become more common in recent years. But many conditions still go undiagnosed, even into adulthood. One condition that went unrecognized for decades — and still commonly gets missed — is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Access to information about and treatment for ADHD has increased. However, many children, adolescents and even adults still struggle and need help.

Here at KVC West Virginia, we hope to bring attention, understanding and treatment to children and adults experiencing ADHD. Let’s learn more about ADHD, the key symptoms and available treatment options.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experience

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder often characterized by difficulty with focusing and controlling energy output (self-regulation). Although it’s easy to mislabel a child who struggles to pay attention in school with ADHD, it is in fact a medical condition that requires a formal diagnosis for treatment.

That’s why it’s important to monitor children’s development and seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect ADHD may be impacting their life. The right treatment can help children avoid potential ramifications, like low self-esteem or difficulty in school or work — and can help in building healthy relationships. 

When explaining ADHD and the behaviors to children and parents, KVC West Virginia therapist Abbey Hall says, “ADHD can look different with each child, but in all cases, we work on rewiring the brain to function with increased efficiency.”

Why is ADHD Such a Commonly Occurring Disorder?

ADHD is currently the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children, an upward trend that began in the late 1990s and has continued to grow ever since. Experts attribute the rise in ADHD diagnoses to two factors. First, doctors have grown more effective in identifying the disorder. Secondly, parents and caregivers have gained greater awareness about mental health, including ADHD. 

While ADHD typically presents itself in childhood, it can be tricky to diagnose. Why? Some symptoms, like hyperactivity, might simply be normal behaviors for their age and developmental stage. 

“Some normal behaviors of children can be seen and thought to be ADHD symptoms when the children are in fact struggling to manage themselves and may not know how to do that yet,” explains Hall. 

Because it may be difficult to distinguish ADHD from normal development at a young age, medical professionals usually wait to evaluate a child until they are at least five to six years old, with an average childhood diagnosis age of seven. 

ADHD Signs and Symptoms to Watch for in Children

Symptoms of ADHD sit in three categories: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and a combination of the two. Although many symptoms can fall under ADHD (see the full list here), there are a few telltale signs that children may be struggling.  


Inattentiveness refers to when the child has difficulty focusing. It may feel like the child is looking right through you when you’re talking to them and not paying attention at all to what you are saying. Inattentiveness may also look like:

  • Iback to school anxietympulsiveness: If a child struggles with the inability to control their actions, even in dangerous situations, then they might be dealing with ADHD. Impulsiveness is also commonly associated with hyperactivity.
  • Careless mistakes: It’s normal for children to make mistakes as they learn and grow, but it may be a sign of ADHD if these mistakes are frequent and the child struggles to follow instructions. 
  • Daydreaming: The child might “zone out” and seem to be in a completely different place and state of mind, easily getting sidetracked or lost in thought. 
  • Trouble recalling details: You may find that you read an entire story or watch a movie with your child and when asked if they remember what it was about, they cannot remember or give any details. In other situations, it might seem like short-term memory isn’t working. 
  • Inability to follow through on tasks: Even simple tasks often go unfinished, and the child needs to have step-by-step guidance and instructions on what to do next to reach their goal.


Hyperactivity is the stereotypical picture of ADHD. It’s the way someone struggles to sit still and control their behaviors. But hyperactivity can be many things, including: 

  • ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experienceBlurting out at inappropriate times: This symptom is highly noticeable and will likely be a consistent issue. 
  • Poor concentration: Concentration seems incredibly difficult and might not happen without multiple interruptions.
  • Excessive movement and talking: The child is in a near-constant state of talking and moving.
  • Overly fidgety: The child has extra trouble sitting still for any amount of time and needs to get up and move around constantly. 
  • Minimal sense of danger: Often acting before thinking, this can make dangerous situations a serious safety concern. This symptom can overlap with impulsiveness, as the child may either get distracted or take action in an unsafe manner. 

What Does ADHD Treatment Look Like for Different Age Groups?

Those who receive an official medical diagnosis of ADHD will begin discussing treatment options with their healthcare provider. In many cases, medical professionals will recommend medication in conjunction with behavior therapy for all age groups along with behavior management for parents of younger children. Here are some examples of what behavior therapy for ADHD might include for children in different age groups:

Ages 5-12

ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experienceChildren younger than seven typically begin behavioral therapy before prescribing any medication. But otherwise, therapy remains similar for children ages 5-12. Behavioral therapy might include visual aids for refocusing and playing games to help with following instructions and impulse control.

One example is a red-light, green-light game Hall likes to play with her clients. She uses a stoplight visual, with a red light meaning stop what you’re doing, a yellow light meaning slow down and think about your choices, and a green light for making a choice.  

Ages 12-18

ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experienceThis older age group is often being monitored with the use of medication, but some may decide to try therapy without medication. Activities in behavioral therapy may involve refocusing, listening and impulse control. However, a large portion of treatment focuses on breaking down tasks and goal-setting. 

Youth develop techniques with their mental health treatment provider to help them learn how to break down a task and create an achievable plan to accomplish the goal. Children may also practice managing concentration and distractions by using their five senses to ground themselves in the moment.

Treatment Through a Healthy Routine

While children with ADHD should still receive an official diagnosis and proper treatment, some things can be done to ease ADHD symptoms at any age. Parents and caregivers can help their child by ensuring that they get adequate sleep at night with a dedicated bedtime routine, eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise regularly, spend time outdoors and form other smart habits. 

Why is ADHD Commonly Missed in Females?

ADHD is one of the most common behavioral health conditions children and adults experienceAlthough the ratio of male to female ADHD diagnosis in adults is closer to 1:1, the ratio for childhood diagnosis is closer to 4:1. This reveals how ADHD is statistically overlooked in younger girls. In fact, with the current divide in diagnosis, studies show about 11.9% of boys in the United States are currently diagnosed with ADHD, compared to 5.5% of girls.

The diagnosis discrepancy correlates to how symptoms present themselves in children. As Hall explains, “Little boys seem to exhibit the symptoms more readily than girls, especially since younger boys are more naturally prone to hyperactivity, even without ADHD.” 

Also at play are ADHD stereotypes and stigmas, because a proper diagnosis depends heavily on symptom presentation. While ADHD is not any more common in boys than it is in girls, it often affects them differently. Research suggests that boys present more hyperactive behaviors while girls appear to struggle with the inattentive side. Even so, it’s important not to rule out hyperactivity in girls and recognize all the possible symptoms of ADHD more common in girls

How Parents and Caregivers Can Support a Child with ADHD

With effective treatment, ADHD can be a superpower, as Hall explains! The first step is to get proper care and support. If you’re worried that your child is struggling, there are a few things you can do: 

  • Discuss behaviors with your child’s teacher or counselor 
  • Contact a mental health service provider
  • Talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting a referral 

To start the diagnosis process, connect with KVC West Virginia with a request for services. After a request is made, a KVC professional will ask you for additional details. If your child is a candidate for treatment, KVC will move forward with an ADHD assessment. 

KVC therapists use trauma-informed and evidence-based interventions to provide the best possible mental healthcare services to children and families. Each child and family receives individualized care and is met where they are to address their needs. 

Don’t wait to get the treatment your child needs to thrive! Contact your closest KVC West Virginia location today. 

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