Updated: Jun 15
Please note that this is not medical advice but for educational purposes only. Only a trained professional who has completed a clinical evaluation can diagnose ADHD. You may identify with all of the symptoms described and still not have ADHD. Similarly, you may have ADHD and not have all of the symptoms described.
If you look up the signs and symptoms of ADHD, you will probably run across the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) criteria. The DSM is essentially a guide that clinicians and researchers use to help categorize mental health conditions. You can read the full DSM criteria on the CDC's website, but briefly, it includes symptoms like inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms must be present most of the time for at least the last six months and must cause distress or impairment in functioning. Also, several symptoms must have been present before age 12 and cannot be better explained by another mental health issue (such as anxiety or depression).
Clearly, it is essential to understand these aspects of ADHD. However, it can be hard to determine whether you struggle with inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity without more explanations and examples. I have found that asking more specific questions can help me better figure out whether someone is dealing with ADHD or something else. There are also many research-supported symptoms of ADHD not included in the DSM, and asking about these can help me be more sure of a diagnosis. Non-DSM criteria can be especially illuminating in adults, as many clinicians find that adults are more bothered by symptoms related to executive dysfunction (not well-described in the DSM criteria) than inattention or hyperactivity.
Here are some of the questions I use to figure it out. Please note that this is not a validated tool for diagnosing ADHD. Instead, these are simply examples of the questions I ask in my own practice. A diagnosis of ADHD requires a thorough clinical interview by a trained professional. This list of questions can help you figure out whether you need to see a doctor or, if you already have a diagnosis of ADHD, can help you better understand some of the possible symptoms of your disorder.
Do you often:
Find yourself daydreaming or having trouble focusing?
Feel restless or unable to sit still?
Tap your foot, twirl your hair, shift in your chair, pick at your cuticles, or bounce your leg?
Find yourself being just a little late or excessively early to almost everything, no matter how hard you try?
Have trouble telling how long it will take you to complete a task, even if it is something you often do?
Feel embarrassed by how disorganized or messy your space is at home or work?
Have trouble organizing things at the beginning of a task or project (for example, outlining a paper)?
Have difficulty completing one task at a time?
Find it hard to relax or wind down?
Have trouble sleeping because you can't turn your mind off?
Find yourself overeating, struggling with binge eating, or compulsively eating the same foods over and over?
Do well on complicated questions but then miss straightforward questions on assignments or tests?
Have trouble throwing things away, so you end up keeping everything by default?
Lose essential day-to-day items like keys, phone, wallet, etc.?
Feel sensitive to criticism and rejection?
Find yourself getting distracted while driving, even to the point where you have been in more car accidents or gotten more speeding tickets than the average person?
Feel easily overwhelmed in loud or busy environments?
I find that the more someone relates to these questions, the more likely they are to have ADHD. I use these answers to help support the information I've gathered from a clinical interview, collateral informant (such as a partner, teacher, or parent), and a review of records and past neuropsychological testing. Remember that ADHD can only be diagnosed after a thorough evaluation by a professional, so if these questions sound familiar, please see a doctor or therapist!
If you want to learn more about these symptoms, ADHD in general, or ways to cope, check below for some of my favorite resources (also listed on the resources page).
Please note that links include Amazon links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means that I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. This helps me run the site, including this resources section.
Free articles on coping with ADHD, quizzes on symptoms, resources
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
Advocacy, free resources, free hotline to talk with an ADHD specialist, info for parents, educators, and people with ADHD.
Books/Workbooks (Click for Amazon Link)
For students in grades 6-12
Understanding Girls with ADHD: How They Feel and Why They Do What They Do by Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, Ellen Littman, PhD, and Patricia Quinn, MD
Attention Girls!: A Guide to Learn All About Your ADHD by Patricia Quinn, MD
A guide for girls ages 7-11 who want to learn more about their ADHD and how to cope
AD/HD and the College Student: The Everything Guide to Your Most Urgent Questions by Patricia Quinn, MD