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What is the ADHD Spectrum?

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What is the ADHD Spectrum?

Today, we’re looking at what it means when people talk about ADHD being a spectrum. But first, let’s start with ADHD itself. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder.

ADHD affects around 11% of school-aged children and is characterized by “developmentally inappropriate” behavioral presentations.


Symptoms can include:

  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Excitability
  • Fidgeting
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Trouble focusing
  • Learning disability
  • Problems paying attention
  • Repetition of words or actions

It can be hard to distinguish ADHD symptoms from typical child behavior, which is why a professional diagnosis is essential. There are three presentations of ADHD and a broad spectrum of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.



No Two People With ADHD Are Alike

It’s important to remember that no two individuals with ADHD are the same. Talking about ADHD as being on a spectrum can help us appreciate that every child or adult has their own unique experience with the world.



As such, each individual requires personal strategies, tools, and styles of managing symptoms and thriving in their everyday lives. Knowing your child’s ADHD presentation type and understanding where their symptoms fall on the spectrum are helpful to better support and empathize with them.




The Three Types of ADHD Presentation


If your child has ADHD, you probably already know that there are multiple types of presentation. Each describes the unique ways that ADHD symptoms show up in your child’s everyday behavior and experiences.


Below, we look at the specific symptoms associated with each of the three types of ADHD presentation.



ADHD Predominantly Inattentive

  • Tends to be forgetful
  • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention
  • Makes careless mistakes due to inattention
  • Has a hard time following through with instructions
  • Sustained mental effort is problematic or distressing
  • Is constantly losing things
  • Has trouble being or staying organized
  • Has trouble paying attention
  • Is easily distracted

ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

  • Excessive talking
  • Blurting out answers or replies without knowing the whole question
  • Constantly speaking over others & interrupting
  • Trouble staying seated or still
  • Finds it difficult to participate in activities quietly
  • Fidgeting–with feet or hands–including squirming and restlessness
  • Excessive running, climbing, roughhousing
  • Feeling like a motor is driving them
  • Struggles to wait their turn

ADHD Combined Presentation

With a combined presentation, children exhibit symptoms of both ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive and ADHD predominantly Inattentive.

It’s important to note that ADHD symptoms can change over time. Though many individuals continue to experience ADHD into adulthood, their symptoms can vary, lessen, or take different forms.



Severity of Symptoms: A Spectrum


When people talk about ADHD being a spectrum, they are referring to the severity and presentation of symptoms. ADHD affects each child and adult to varying degrees, so understanding where someone falls on “the spectrum” is helpful in knowing precisely how to support them.



ADHD severity can be:


Mild - Here, there are fewer symptoms present, and the presence of symptoms has minimal impact on everyday life, including school, work, and relationships.

Moderate - Here, we see symptoms that fall between mild and severe in terms of functional impairment. 

Severe -With severe symptoms, the individual experiences many symptoms. In addition to many signs being present, some symptoms are particularly severe, or the combination of symptoms is such that the impairment is significant in how it affects everyday life. 


Interestingly, many people’s ADHD symptoms change over time. You even see people diagnosed with “ADHD in partial remission,” as specific symptoms lessen or are no longer present.



What is the ADHD Spectrum: Conclusion

If you have a child with ADHD, we know it can be a challenge. But the more you know, the less daunting and overwhelming it feels. It’s essential for parents and children to remember that the ADHD symptoms and severity of today aren’t a life sentence, nor do they have to interfere with a full, productive life.


Sensory Scout is a wealth of resources, community connection opportunities, and sensory products that promote health and wellness. As the parent of a child with sensory struggles, you’re never alone! We are all in this together.