9 Surprising Facts About Childhood ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on April 14, 2020
  • Young boy playing with fidget spinner
    How many ADHD facts do you know?
    Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects approximately 6 million American children. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, 3 to 9% of all children have ADHD, which means that most typical classrooms include at least 1 to 2 (possibly more) students with ADHD.

    Because ADHD affects focus and attention, it affects a child’s relationships. The more you know about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the better able you’ll be to understand and connect with children who have ADHD.
  • Two young toddler boys banging pots and pans on kitchen
    1. ADHD was first recognized in 1902.
    The symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder were first described in 1902, when clinicians noticed that some children were more inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive than others. Over time, this condition has been known by a variety of names, including “hyperactivity,” attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and, now, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    All children, of course, are occasionally inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive, particularly when they are toddlers and preschoolers. In children with ADHD, these symptoms persist and affect the child’s function at home and school. Children with ADHD, for instance, usually struggle in school more than their classmates who don’t have ADHD.
  • Young boy looking sad or concerned staring away from mother on couch who's looking at phone
    2. There are three types of childhood ADHD.
    There are three subtypes of ADHD: 1) predominantly inattentive; 2) predominantly hyperactive-impulsive; and 3) combined. Children who have predominantly inattentive ADHD are more likely to daydream than fidget in class. Because their behavior doesn’t usually disturb others, parents and teachers may not even consider ADHD a possibility. Children with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are kids who have a hard time staying still. They may be in near-constant motion, and may blurt out answers, rather than raising their hands. Children with combined ADHD show symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
  • Smiling teacher and happy kid doing homework after classes
    3. Children are usually diagnosed around age 7.
    Because toddlers are normally very active and impulsive, ADHD isn’t usually diagnosed until children are older. Many children begin the path toward diagnosis after they begin school, when teachers and parents notice behaviors that make it difficult for the child to thrive.

    According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5), several symptoms must be apparent before age 12 for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD. Symptoms include difficulty following instructions, disorganization, difficulty waiting, impulsive actions, daydreaming, fidgeting, and frequent roughhousing.
  • Tired stressed mom having headache feeling annoyed about noisy kid
    4. Children with ADHD are not being “difficult” or “disobedient.”
    Because children with ADHD are often impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive, they may miss instructions or do the exact opposite of whatever they’ve been asked. Many adults mistakenly attribute this behavior to willful disobedience; when, in reality, the child has a brain disorder that makes it very difficult for them to pay attention and process information.

    Learning more about ADHD may help adults better understand the challenges of a child with ADHD, and develop more compassionate, effective strategies for interaction.
  • Teenage boy with drugs
    5. ADHD increases the risk of substance abuse.
    Because the condition is characterized by impulsivity, children with ADHD are at increased risk of developing an alcohol or drug problem in adolescence or adulthood. Children and teens with ADHD are also more likely than those without ADHD to drive recklessly and participate in risky sexual behaviors.

    Treating ADHD can decrease the risk of these behaviors. Studies have shown that individuals who receive treatment are no more likely to participate in harmful behaviors than people who do not have ADHD.
  • Bored teenage boy scrolling apps on phone, distracted from homework, procrastination
    6. More than 60% of children with ADHD have a co-existing condition.
    Most children with ADHD also have at least one other physical or mental health condition. Many children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism. According to ADDitude magazine, as many as half of all children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have ADHD.

    Other common co-existing conditions include depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, Tourette syndrome, sleep disorders, and learning disabilities. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment of any co-existing conditions can improve outcomes. While not a condition, a child with ADHD may also be gifted. The child may possess great intelligence, academic skills, creativity, physical ability, social-emotional intelligence, leadership, or a combination of these traits. (Giftedness may mask ADHD and delay diagnosis.)
  • Schoolgirl showing a pill in classroom
    7. Medication improves functioning in about 70 to 80% of children with ADHD.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavior management as the first line of treatment for children younger than 6. For children older than age 6, the AAP recommends a combination of behavior management and medication.

    Prescription stimulant medicine can help children with ADHD focus and control their behavior. Non-stimulant prescription ADHD medicine is also available. It may take time and trial and error to discover which medicine works best for a child, but 70 to 80% of children with ADHD respond positively to medicine, according to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
  • Girl doing homework at table
    8. ADHD may be related to narcolepsy.
    There is some evidence to suggest a possible link between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by daytime drowsiness and a tendency to fall asleep suddenly during daylight hours. Interestingly, doctors have found that a drug normally used to treat narcolepsy—modafinil (Provigil)—also improves ADHD symptoms in some people.

    Be sure to share information about your child’s sleep habits with your healthcare provider. This information can help the provider effectively manage your child’s health condition.
  • Smiling male colleagues looking at each other while sitting by desk in office
    9. ADHD usually persists into adulthood.
    There is no cure for ADHD, and most people don’t “grow out of it.” Medication and treatment can dramatically reduce symptoms and improve functioning but, in most cases, a child who has ADHD will continue to struggle with attention, focus, organization and activity in adulthood. In fact, ADHD persists from childhood to adulthood in about 60 to 80% of affected individuals, according to CHADD.

    Continued treatment can help adults with ADHD effectively meet their responsibilities and reach goals.
Childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: 9 Surprising Facts

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/attentiondeficithyperactivitydisorder.html
  2. General Prevalence of ADHD. CHADD. https://chadd.org/about-adhd/general-prevalence/
  3. Focusing on ADHD. National Institutes of Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/09/focusing-adhd
  4. ADHD. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/adhd.html
  5. All About ADHD – Overview. CHADD. https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/
  6. Parenting a Child with ADHD. CHADD. https://chadd.org/for-parents/overview/
  7. Attention Deficit – Hyperactivity Disorder Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder-Information-Page
  8. Managing Medication. CHADD. https://chadd.org/for-parents/managing-medication/
  9. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/?adfree=true
  10. Is It ADHD or Autism? Or Both? ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/is-it-adhd-or-asd/
ADHD. Learning Disabilities of America. https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/adhd/
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 26
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