Hyperactivity in Adults with ADHD vs. Children

Young girl with paint all over her face and hands
It is helpful to understand the different ways symptoms of ADHD may present in childhood versus adulthood. Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

"What are some ways that the hyperactive aspects of ADHD look different in adults as compared to children? For example, I know one of the criteria for the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD includes 'runs and climbs excessively,' but as an adult, this isn't really an issue. Can you explain how symptoms of hyperactivity may manifest differently in an adult?" --About.com Reader

For both children and adults, the primary symptoms that define ADHD include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention.

Not all individuals with ADHD will display these symptoms in the same way or to the same degree, and you may certainly see changes in the way the symptoms manifest as an individual ages and moves through different stages of life.

You mention hyperactivity, and this is one of the areas of ADHD that does seem to present a bit differently in adulthood. For example, the overt hyperactivity may not be as prevalent. Instead, a person may experience feelings of uncomfortable restlessness. Below is a listing of a few of the ways hyperactive or impulsive symptoms may present differently in children versus adults.

Childhood

  • Squirming, fidgeting
  • Can't stay seated in class, meals
  • Can't wait turn
  • Blurts out answers before questions have been completely asked
  • Runs and climbs excessively
  • Can't play or work quietly
  • On the go, driven by a motor
  • Talks excessively
  • Intrudes on personal space; interrupts others

    Adulthood

  • Needs to move; feels restless inside, fidgety
  • Can't sit through meetings, meals, movies
  • Extremely impatient
  • Finishes people's sentences; draws rapid conclusions
  • Drives too fast, reckless
  • Prefers very active job
  • On the go; low tolerance for frustration
  • Talks excessively; makes inappropriate comments
  • Interrupts others; monopolizes conversations

    Common symptoms of adult ADHD may also include poor attention; excessive distractibility; spacing out; problems with memory and forgetfulness; frequently losing things; trouble organizing steps in a project; chronic lateness; procrastination; trouble starting and finishing tasks; careless mistakes; and disorganization.

    For many people with ADHD, the symptoms related to inattentiveness often become more prominent in adulthood, while the hyperactivity symptoms become ones that are felt much more internally than observed outwardly.

    Read more about Understanding Symptoms of Adult ADHD and the Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD.

    Learn more about Assessing for ADHD in Adults.

    Source:

    Adler L; Cohen J. "Diagnosis and Evaluation of Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder" Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2004 Jun;27(2):187-201.

    Goodman D; McCracken J; Baron D. ADHD Across the Ages: Focus on the Adult. CME Outfitters. 2009 Dec.

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