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What does ADD feel like in kids?

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. ADD is considered a type of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although ADD does not include hyperactivity as a core symptom. ADD primarily involves problems with maintaining focus and concentration, organization skills and controlling impulses. This can lead to struggles in school, problems in relationships and difficulties managing day-to-day tasks.

ADD often first appears in childhood, typically being diagnosed in kids between the ages of 4 and 12. The symptoms and challenges of ADD can look different in children compared to adults. Understanding what ADD feels like for a child can help parents and teachers better support kids with the condition. Here is an overview of some of the key experiences and difficulties kids with ADD often face:

Difficulty Focusing and Paying Attention

One of the hallmark symptoms of ADD is difficulty sustaining focus and attention, especially on tasks that are considered boring or mundane. Kids with ADD often have trouble concentrating in class or while doing homework. Their minds tend to wander and they can find it hard to stay on-task.

A child with ADD may seem constantly distracted or “spaced out”. They may frequently daydream or lose focus during conversations. Kids with ADD struggle with listening comprehension, since their attention drifts. They have trouble staying tuned in during lengthy classroom lessons. Even conversations with friends or watching a movie can be challenging for kids with ADD, as their attention wavers.

Being Easily Distracted

Children with ADD are highly distractible. It takes very little to pull their attention away from a task. Background noises, sights, their own thoughts or even physical sensations can easily distract kids with ADD.

A child with ADD may have a hard time ignoring irrelevant sights and sounds around them. For example, the ticking of a clock, shuffling of papers, or cars passing by outside can disrupt their concentration. Thoughts that pop into their mind like, “I’m hungry” or “I wonder what’s for lunch today” also quickly distract them.

Even internal bodily sensations like an itch or growling stomach can interfere with a child’s ability to maintain focus. Kids with ADD struggle to block out distractions and stay focused on schoolwork.

Restlessness and Fidgeting

Some children with ADD also deal with hyperactivity or restless energy. They may fidget, squirm, tap their hands or feet, or find other outlets for their excessive energy. Hyperactivity tends to be more pronounced in younger kids with ADD, but can persist into the teen years.

A child with ADD may wiggle in their chair, bounce their leg, play with their hair or repeatedly tap a pencil while trying to pay attention. This restless behavior is often an unconscious attempt at self-stimulation to boost alertness and concentration. The urge to move around can be difficult for kids with ADD to resist.

Problems Remembering Details

ADD also involves memory problems in some cases. Kids may have difficulty recalling details, like the steps of math equations or elements from a history lesson. Names, dates, times and other specifics tend to slip their mind more easily.

A child with ADD may frequently forget their homework, lunchbox or permission slips. Keeping track of belongings is often a struggle. Kids with ADD tend to misplace items, leave projects unfinished and lose track of what they’re supposed to be doing. Their forgetfulness is not due to lack of intelligence, but rather problems with working memory typical of ADD.

Difficulty Following Instructions

Processing and remembering multi-step directions can also be challenging for kids with ADD. They may have trouble following instructions that involve several sequential steps.

A child with ADD may get lost or miss steps when following cooking recipes, science experiments or arts and crafts directions. Keeping track of turn-taking games with complex rules also tends to be difficult. Their brains have trouble holding onto all the information they need to complete multi-step tasks.

Trouble Staying Organized

Disorganization is another common struggle for children with ADD. Their bedrooms, schoolwork and possessions are often messy and cluttered. Kids with ADD struggle with keeping track of homework and managing their time.

A child with ADD may have a backpackoverflowing with crumpled papers and assignments. Their homework is full of scribbles and missing information. Their desk and locker are stuffed chaotically with half-finished worksheets and items they’ll never need. Kids with ADD often feel like their thoughts and possessions are disorganized.

Poor Impulse Control

ADD involves difficulty controlling impulses and urges. Children with ADD tend to be more reactive and emotionally volatile. They may blurt out comments without thinking first.

A child with ADD often jumps into action without considering consequences. They might run across the street without looking, grab a toy off a shelf in a store or interrupt others frequently. Kids with ADD usually feel regretful after reacting too quickly. But their brain’s braking system struggles to stop impulses in the moment.

Trouble Delaying Gratification

Kids with ADD also have more trouble resisting temptations and delaying gratification. They want immediate rewards and have less patience for waiting.

A child with ADD may have a hard time postponing fun activities to complete homework first. They struggle to work for rewards that seem far off in the future. Saving their allowance money or waiting turns in games is often extremely difficult. Kids with ADD function better with more immediate positive reinforcement.

Emotional Dysregulation

Many kids with ADD suffer from emotional dysregulation. This means they feel emotions strongly and have outbursts more easily. Small frustrations can quickly escalate into full-blown meltdowns.

A child with ADD is more reactive and quick to anger or sadness. They have a harder time calming down once upset. Big emotional reactions can come on rapidly and intensely. However, these feelings dissipate quickly as well. The emotional rollercoaster can be tiring for kids with ADD.

Trouble Starting and Finishing Tasks

Children with ADD often struggle with executive function deficits. This includes problems getting started on tasks and seeing them through to completion. Kids with ADD procrastinate starting projects and assignments. They feel paralyzed by the steps involved and can’t motivate themselves to begin.

Once engaged in a task, kids with ADD have trouble persisting through the challenges to finish. They are quick to feel frustrated and lose steam halfway through. Jumping between unfinished assignments is common. For children with ADD, starting and finishing work requires immense mental effort.

Problems Making Friends

The social skills of kids with ADD may also lag behind their peers. Their impulsivity, forgetfulness and distractedness can make relating to others tough.

A child with ADD may accidentally interrupt friends or dominate the conversation. They have trouble remembering to take turns and share. Starting conversations and entering groups gracefully can also be difficult for kids with ADD. Their peers may see them as quirky, annoying or immature. Kids with ADD often feel rejected and isolated socially.

Low Self-Esteem

The difficulties and failures experienced by children with ADD often damage their self-confidence. They internalize the frustrations of adults and criticism of peers.

A child with ADD is likely to see themselves as stupid, lazy or crazy. They feel something is intrinsically wrong with them. It’s common for kids with ADD to suffer from anxiety and depression. Getting support and accommodations tailored to their needs is important to help children with ADD maintain positive self-esteem.

Confusion and Overload

The barrage of stimulation kids encounter during school hours can quickly overload and disorient those with ADD. Too much noise, visual input and information coming at them multifariously is highly distracting.

A child with ADD may seem lost, distressed or shutdown when they hit their sensory overload limit. Some kids with ADD learn to purposely retreat into daydreaming or imaginary worlds to cope. Protecting children with ADD from excessive stimulation is key.

Physical Restlessness

As mentioned, some kids with ADD also contend with feeling physically restless and fidgety. They may chew on items, shake their leg, frequently get up to walk around or look for other outlets for their extra energy.

A child with ADD struggles to tolerate sitting still for long periods. Their bodies seem to hum with unused energy looking for some mode of expression. Kids with hyperactive ADD symptoms especially have a hard time containing their urge to move and release pent up energy.

Difficulty Completing Tasks

Finishing tasks can be hugely challenging for kids with ADD. They get started, quickly grow frustrated and abandon the task partway through. Jumping between many incomplete projects is common.

A child with ADD may start homework, realize they’re missing key materials, search chaotically and give up. Writing an essay, building a LEGO set and practicing piano can all end prematurely. Kids with ADD need more encouragement, structure and supervision to complete tasks.

Forgetfulness About Daily Activities

ADD frequently involves chronic forgetfulness and absentmindedness about daily responsibilities and self-care. Kids may forget to brush teeth, do chores, turn in homework or relay messages.

A child with ADD might leave projects, books and sports equipment scattered around the house. Keeping track of schedules, appointments and deadlines is often difficult. Kids with ADD benefit from reminders, lists and cleanup assistance from parents. Their forgetfulness is not willful, but a symptom of the condition.

Inability to Focus on Boring Tasks

Paying attention to mundane or repetitive tasks requires mental effort that kids with ADD don’t have available. Cleaning their room, practicing music scales or doing math worksheets hold little intrinsic reward to sustain their focus.

A child with ADD who can hyperfocus for hours building Legos may be utterly unable to make themselves practice basic piano scales. Completing tasks that lack engagement and challenge is incredibly hard, no matter how much kids with ADD want to succeed. Accommodations like breaking tasks into smaller chunks or adding competition can help.

Difficulty Listening to Directions

Following verbal instructions and multi-step directions is tremendously difficult for kids with ADD. They miss steps, get lost midway through and need reminders to stay on track.

A child with ADD might accidentally skip ingredients while baking, forget to close cabinet doors in the kitchen or need reminders about proper shoe-tying sequence. Auditory information gets jumbled and forgotten easily. Kids with ADD benefit from both written and verbal instructions, and hands-on demonstrations of new skills.


In summary, ADD creates a range of challenges for kids, including:

– Difficulty focusing and paying attention
– Being easily distracted
– Restlessness and fidgeting
– Problems remembering details
– Difficulty following instructions
– Trouble staying organized
– Poor impulse control
– Trouble delaying gratification
– Emotional dysregulation
– Trouble starting and finishing tasks
– Problems making friends
– Low self-esteem
– Confusion and overload
– Physical restlessness
– Difficulty completing tasks
– Forgetfulness about daily activities
– Inability to focus on boring tasks
– Difficulty listening to directions

Understanding the inner experiences of children with ADD allows parents and teachers to better empathize with their struggles. Implementing the right interventions, supports and accommodations makes a major difference in setting kids with ADD up for success. While ADD certainly poses challenges, kids who get the help they need can thrive in school and life.