Skip to content
For Families

Frequently Asked Questions about ADHD

Anna Kroncke


Last modified 19 Mar 2024

Published 06 Mar 2024

Here at Cadey, parents ask us every day about ADHD and their child. Here are some common questions we receive and our answers. 

Frequently Asked Questions about ADHD

What does untreated ADHD look like? 

First and foremost, you will notice that your child has trouble with executive functions. These are planning, organization, problem-solving, initiating tasks, and making transitions. According to Dr. Russell Barkley, a leading researcher on ADHD, these are the hallmark of the disorder. 

You will notice your child struggles with inattention, the ability to pay attention and stay on task. Your child may become easily distracted by their surroundings and have difficulty following instructions. 

You will notice your child struggles with impulsivity. Your child struggles to stop and think before acting. This can be hard for many young children but can especially be a struggle for children with ADHD. Challenges with impulsivity also include emotional impulsivity. This means your child may have difficulty controlling their emotions and may be more likely to express emotions quickly. Impulsive kids and teenagers may also engage in risky behaviors.

You may notice your child struggles with hyperactivity. You may notice your child fidgeting, squirming, and is not able to sit still. Your child may have difficulty playing quietly or waiting their turn. You may also notice they frequently interrupt people. 

You may notice your child struggles with school and receives low grades. Your child may have difficulty making and keeping friends. You may hear your child is disruptive in the classroom. 

Untreated ADHD can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and low self-esteem in children. They may feel like they are not good enough, and may struggle with feelings of shame or embarrassment.

What is ADHD commonly mistaken for? 

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions, particularly those that involve similar symptoms. 

ADHD is most often mistaken for:

  1. Anxiety: Children and adults with ADHD may experience symptoms of anxiety, such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, which can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis of anxiety disorder. It is also quite common for a child or adult to have both ADHD and anxiety. 
  2. Depression: Like anxiety, depression can cause symptoms such as lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating, which can be similar to symptoms of ADHD.
  3. Learning Disabilities: ADHD can cause difficulties with reading, writing, and other academic skills. Challenges with attention can make learning hard. Even if a child has the skills to learn they may have trouble because of distraction or impulsivity. This can sometimes be mistaken for a learning disability.
  4. Bipolar Disorder: In some cases, the hyperactive and impulsive behavior associated with ADHD can be mistaken for symptoms of bipolar disorder. Emotional impulsivity can mimic bipolar because of quick emotional lability but those with ADHD do not have the intensity of emotions that bipolar carries.
  5. Conduct Disorder: Children with ADHD may sometimes display oppositional or defiant behavior, which can be misdiagnosed as conduct disorder. Without adequate treatment, those with ADHD are at risk for developing behavior disorders like ODD or Conduct Disorder.

It is important to note that while these conditions share some symptoms with ADHD, they are distinct disorders with their own unique diagnostic criteria and treatment options. Accurate diagnosis by a trained professional is crucial in determining the most appropriate course of treatment. Famiies can learn more about the signs and symptoms of ADHD in the courses that Cadey offers.

Is ADHD a form of Autism? 

The short answer is no. 

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive or restrictive behaviors. ADHD, on the other hand, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

While there may be some overlap in symptoms between Autism and ADHD, such as difficulties with social interaction and communication, the two disorders are distinct and have different diagnostic criteria. In fact, some individuals may receive a diagnosis of both Autism and ADHD, while others may have one condition without the other.

It is important to seek professional evaluation and treatment if you have concerns about either Autism or ADHD, as early diagnosis and intervention can lead to better outcomes for individuals with these conditions. Families can learn more about the signs and symptoms of autism and ADHD in Cadey courses, which are available at no cost as part of the Cadey system.

What age does ADHD start? 

ADHD is generally diagnosed in early childhood.

For your child to be diagnosed with ADHD, you want to see issues showing up before the age of 12. If your child is now a teen and you are just now noticing your child is struggling to focus or pay attention, it is possible that the cause may be something different. It is also possible that symptoms were masked at a younger age because of your child’s intelligence or particularly organized and supportive teachers. 

It is common for ADHD to cause more challenges once a child is in high school or even college. Dr. Russell Barkley, a leading researcher in ADHD warns clinicians to be careful about this age restriction when diagnosing adults. Often it is hard for an adult to recall some of the challenges from early years or to pinpoint when symptoms began. He suggests that looking at the symptoms presently is best with some consideration of the developmental trajectory. ADHD is neurodevelopmental and does need to be present in that period, but it can be hard to recall or trust the memory of parents years later. 

ADHD symptoms occur in multiple aspects of a child, teen or adult’s everyday life. For example, you will notice the struggles at home, school, and community activities. 

Can you have ADHD without knowing you have it? 

Yes, it is possible for you or your child to have ADHD without being aware of the symptoms.

In some cases, individuals with ADHD may not recognize their symptoms as problematic or may not be aware that their difficulties with executive functions, attention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity are related to a medical condition. This can be especially true for individuals with milder forms of ADHD or those who have learned to compensate for their symptoms over time.

At what age does ADHD peak? 

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, does not necessarily have a specific age at which it “peaks.” However, symptoms of ADHD may change over time and can vary in severity depending on a variety of factors.

In general, the symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity associated with ADHD may be more prominent in early childhood, while symptoms of inattention and trouble with executive functions may become more apparent in adolescence and adulthood. However, this can vary from person to person.

How do you test for ADHD in a child? 

Testing for ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, typically involves a comprehensive assessment that includes a variety of methods such as clinical interviews, behavioral observations, and rating scales. These are considered the gold standard for ADHD diagnoses.

Neuropsychologists and other psychologists may test for ADHD by doing a test of continuous performance or a CPT. This may be coupled with executive functioning tests, interviews, and rating scales. It is important to note that an individual with ADHD may do well on some measures of continuous performance, executive functioning and even working memory. Intelligence or cognitive testing is helpful in that it shows a pattern of strengths and weaknesses. 

Some children, teens and adults with ADHD may have more difficulty in areas like working memory and processing speed and perform better in verbal and nonverbal domains. This pattern is not consistent across all people with ADHD. However, these tests can show areas of processing and executive functioning strength and weakness. Results may help with educational planning for a child with ADHD. Researchers like Dr. Russell Barkley remind us that we should not rule ADHD out simply because a person scores highly in cognitive or executive functioning domains. 

The evaluation process for ADHD typically begins with a clinical interview with the child and their parents or caregivers to gather information about the child’s developmental history, medical history, and current symptoms. The psychologist may also conduct interviews with other individuals who interact with the child regularly, such as teachers or coaches.

Behavioral observations may also be used to assess the child’s behavior in various settings, such as at home and school. The psychologist may also use rating scales or checklists completed by parents, teachers, and the child themselves to assess symptoms of ADHD.

In some cases, additional testing may be recommended to rule out other conditions or to assess for co-occurring conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, anxiety or depression.

It is important to note that the assessment process for ADHD can vary depending on the age of the child, the severity of symptoms, and other individual factors.  

What foods should my child avoid if they have ADHD? 

There is no specific diet that has been proven to effectively treat or cure ADHD. However, some research suggests that certain dietary changes may help manage symptoms of ADHD in some individuals.

For example, some studies have found that eliminating certain foods or additives from the diet, such as artificial food colors, processed food, and preservatives, may improve hyperactivity and impulsivity in some children with ADHD. In general, a balanced and healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins is recommended for most children.

Cadey provides courses about how to support a child with ADHD, and these courses include strategies and tips around nutrition.

What foods should my child eat if they have ADHD? 

Some specific foods that may be particularly beneficial for children with ADHD include:

  1. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and some plant-based sources like flaxseeds and chia seeds, may help improve attention and reduce hyperactivity in some children with ADHD.
  2. Protein-rich foods: Lean sources of protein such as chicken, fish, beans, and nuts can help stabilize blood sugar levels, which can help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus.
  3. Complex carbohydrates: Foods that contain complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can provide a steady supply of energy to the brain and help improve focus.
  4. Foods high in iron: Iron-rich foods like spinach and lean red meat can help support cognitive function and improve attention.
  5. Foods with a low glycemic index: Foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables, can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve focus.

What does an ADHD episode look like? 

Here at Cadey, we do not typically refer to “ADHD episodes,” as ADHD is a chronic condition that does not have discrete episodes in the same way that some other conditions do. However, individuals with ADHD may experience a variety of symptoms that can impact their daily lives, including:

  1. Inattention: Difficulty sustaining attention or being easily distracted, making careless mistakes, and struggling to follow through on tasks or instructions.
  2. Hyperactivity: Restlessness, fidgeting, and difficulty staying still or quiet.
  3. Impulsivity: Difficulty waiting for one’s turn, interrupting or intruding on others, and acting without thinking through the consequences.
  4. Emotional dysregulation: Difficulty regulating emotions, leading to mood swings, irritability, or outbursts.
  5. Executive dysfunction: Difficulties with planning, organization, time management, and prioritizing tasks.

These symptoms can vary in severity and presentation from person to person and may be more or less apparent depending on the situation. It is important to note that not everyone with ADHD will experience all of these symptoms, and the symptoms can change over time.

What not to do with a child with ADHD? 

  1. Avoid using negative language: Negative language, such as calling your child “lazy” or “unmotivated,” can be harmful to their self-esteem and may exacerbate their ADHD symptoms. Instead, try to use positive language that focuses on their strengths and encourages them to keep trying.
  2. Avoid over-scheduling: Children with ADHD may become overwhelmed if they have too many activities or commitments. It is important to find a balance between structured activities and unstructured free time to allow your child to recharge and manage their symptoms.
  3. Avoid excessive screen time: While technology can be a useful tool, excessive screen time can worsen ADHD symptoms. Set limits on screen time and encourage your child to engage in other activities, such as reading, playing outside, or creative play.
  4. Avoid inconsistent or unpredictable routines: Children with ADHD often benefit from consistent routines and schedules. Try to establish a predictable routine for meals, bedtime, and other daily activities to help your child manage their symptoms.
  5. Avoid punishing your child for their symptoms: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, and punishing your child for their symptoms can be counterproductive. Children with ADHD respond far better to cues of positive reinforcement than to cues of punishment. Instead of taking things away, giving time out or being negative, focus on positive reinforcement and strategies to help them manage their symptoms.
  6. Avoid taking away a reward your child has earned: Use a behavior plan and chart to specifically encourage your child to complete routines, and transition between activities during the day. When your child earns a reward for these behaviors that is their reward. If they fail to complete a task or exhibit a negative behavior later, they simply fail to earn the next reward. Always give chances for your child to earn praise and reward the next time. 

Cadey psychologists go over specific strategies that families can use with their children in the Cadey courses, which are part of the Cadey system.

Which symptom is the most prominent in children with ADHD? 

The most prominent symptom of ADHD can vary from child to child, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Dr. Russell Barkley, a leading researcher in ADHD, notes that executive dysfunction is the most primary symptom with emotional impulsivity coming in a close second. Diagnostically though ADHD is currently organized into inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. There are three subtypes of ADHD that are recognized:

  1. Predominantly inattentive type: This subtype is characterized by difficulties with attention, focus, and organization, and may be less visible to others. Children with this subtype may appear spacey or forgetful, have trouble completing tasks or following instructions, and be easily distracted.
  2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type: This subtype is characterized by difficulties with hyperactivity and impulsivity, and may be more visible to others. Children with this subtype may be restless, fidgety, and have difficulty sitting still or waiting their turn. They may also interrupt others or act impulsively without thinking through the consequences.
  3. Combined type: This subtype is the most common and includes symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

It is important to note that every child with ADHD is unique and may present with a different combination of symptoms.  

When should you take medication for ADHD? 

The decision to take medication for ADHD is a complex one that should be made in consultation with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, who has expertise in treating ADHD.

Medication for ADHD is typically recommended when a child’s symptoms significantly interfere with their daily functioning, such as their academic or social performance. Further, meditation is a consideration when other interventions, such as behavioral or educational interventions, have not been successful in managing your child’s symptoms. Researchers agree that medication is the most effective treatment for ADHD when it is combined with, in the moment, behavioral supports and interventions. 

Would you like to learn strategies for managing your child’s ADHD? Get access to Cadey courses, the Cadey mobile app, and more by requesting Cadey as a benefit from your employer today!