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What is ADHD?

By Anna Witkin, Medical Consultant |
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ADHD can reasonably be defined as a behavioral condition that affects attention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. It should, however, be noted that ADHD exists on a broad spectrum of severity. It is also essential to distinguish between the definition, diagnostic criteria outlined by the DSM-V, and diagnostic standards used by practitioners.

ADHD Is a Behavioral Condition That Affects Attention, Hyperactivity, or Impulsivity

ADHD Symptoms


General Symptoms

Symptoms Seen Ages 13 and Above

Inability to control attention


Unfinished tasks

Lost homework

Sensitivity to noises / smells

Lost belongings


Failure to complete homework

Chronically late

Rigidity regarding studying environment


Trouble sleeping


Movement without purpose

Talking constantly

Trouble sitting still

Losing / breaking phone

Needing frequent breaks from academic work


Hurting others

Accidental injuries


Trouble maintaining friendship

Inability to delay gratification

“No filter” in conversation

Car accidents / tickets

Engaging in high-risk behaviors



Time blindness




The above chart outlines some of the most common symptoms of ADHD across all ages and those specific to older children and adolescents. It must be emphasized that while many of us can relate to portions of this list of symptoms, that does not mean we all have ADHD. The number, frequency, severity, and persistence of symptoms is what determines if the threshold is met for a diagnosis of ADHD. Most critically, the symptoms must reach a level that interferes with daily functioning. This may take the form of a bright child not passing their classes because they never turn in homework, or a talented athlete being benched because they are distracted by the crowd and lose sight of the ball. Prompt and accurate diagnosis is the first step in preventing this loss of potential.

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Anna Witkin, Medical Consultant

Anna Witkin is a contributing writer for Polygon. Anna holds a BA from UC Berkeley, a Masters in Biomedical Science from Tufts, and researched ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences during her time at Dartmouth School of Medicine studying for her MD.

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