Deciphering ADHD Symptoms Across Ages and Genders

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 22, 2024

Welcome, dear readers, to our deep dive into the mysterious world of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or as it's fondly called - ADHD. It's like that one party guest who's loud, impulsive, often arrives uninvited, and likes to stick around longer than you'd like. You know the one.

With roughly 5% of adults and 8% of kids worldwide invited to this "party,"1 ADHD isn't exactly a rare occurrence.

That makes recognizing its symptoms across different ages and genders crucial. Whether you're an adult wondering why the everyday task of 'adulting' seems Herculean or a parent puzzled by your child's behavior, we're here to break it down for you. 

Here are the truth bombs we are going to be droppin’ today:

  • What are the symptoms of ADHD? We'll begin by explaining what ADHD is and discussing its common symptoms.
  • ADHD Symptoms in Adults: Learn about the general symptoms of ADHD in adults, focusing on how they might differ in men and women.
  • ADHD Symptoms in Kids: We'll delve into the world of kids and discuss how ADHD presents itself in this age group.
  • ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers: Even toddlers can show signs of ADHD. We'll talk about what to look out for.
  • ADHD Symptoms in Teens: Teens have their unique struggles with ADHD. We'll cover that.
  • ADHD Symptoms in Girls: We didn’t forget about girls either. We'll examine how ADHD symptoms can differ in girls compared to boys.
  • Severe ADHD Symptoms: Learn about severe ADHD symptoms and understand when one might need to seek professional help.
  • Seeking help for ADHD: We’ll learn about the ways and whys of seeking help when you have ADHD.

Okay, ready to dive? 

Let’s dig in!

[Understanding Symptoms]Understanding Symptoms of ADHD and Their Different Manifestations

So, what exactly is ADHD? Think of it as a persistent pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity playing spoils with your daily functioning. 

It's like trying to watch a TV show with someone else holding the remote, constantly changing channels, and you're just trying to keep up.

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • difficulty focusing, 
  • forgetfulness, 
  • impulsivity, 
  • hyperactivity, 
  • emotional sensitivity. 

However, these symptoms don't always come in a neatly wrapped package and can look different depending on who's wearing the ADHD shoes

That's why, even though ADHD is (mistakenly) considered a childhood disorder, adults can also have it

They've often had it as kids but were never diagnosed or late-diagnosed.

It's important to remember our motto here: ADHD symptoms don't come in one-size-fits-all. You don't have to check all the boxes to have ADHD. We, humans, are complex beings, after all. 

Even if you're like, "But I can concentrate on stuff... when I find it super interesting!" You could still have ADHD. 

That’s why we will look at how ADHD symptoms can differ from person to person, depending on their age and gender.

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[Adult ADHD Symptoms]Adult ADHD Symptoms

ADHD doesn’t just pack its bags and leave once you hit adulthood, even though that would be pretty nice, wouldn't it? More often than not, it sticks around like a long-term tenant or a bunch of ants you unknowingly brought from a picnic. But, symptoms tend to change with age2.

So, let’s see what adult ADHD looks like.

1. Chronic Forgetfulness

With adult ADHD, you'll find that your keys, wallet, or phone have their magic trick of disappearing when you need them the most. And it's not just things; meetings, appointments, dates—they might as well be written on water.

2. Difficulties With Organization

A workspace with adult ADHD consists of chaos of documents, sticky notes, files, appointments, meetings, and all other things that just can’t help but be unorganized.

The ability to prioritize tasks becomes a Herculean endeavor. Distinguishing between essential and non-essential tasks, sorting through the layers of responsibilities, and determining the most efficient course of action can all become daunting challenges. It's not just about sorting out physical clutter—it's also about wading through cognitive disarray.

3. Problems Socializing

Conversation etiquette can be like learning a foreign language when you've got adult ADHD. You might find yourself interjecting often, eagerly hopping onto the next topic of conversation, or just yelling out thoughts as they come. 

4. Making Hasty Decisions

Hasty decisions can become the norm for those grappling with adult ADHD. Impulsivity may lead to impulsive, unplanned purchases or rash decisions, ranging from risky investments to late-night online shopping sprees. 

These spontaneous decisions often need more consideration for long-term impacts or potential risks. While the adrenaline rush from making quick decisions might provide momentary excitement, it could also lead to later regret or unexpected complications.

[Symptoms in adult woman]ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women

Question: why did I decide to single out and separate ADHD symptoms in women from just “adult symptoms”?

Answer: because symptoms of adult ADHD that we all know and recognize mostly explain male behavior, women tend to exhibit their unique habits here. 

The reasons and causes of these discrepancies are long and complex. No, seriously, they’re so involved that we have a separate article explaining ADHD symptoms in women.

To give you a short primer, though, societal pressures that women experience and their particular biology morph symptoms into something else entirely5

Instead of being hyper and overly excited, women tend to have the more subtle, “under-the-water” symptoms of ADHD. 

1. Internal Restlessness

While men tend to be more hyper, women with ADHD can try to mask their tendencies to maintain outward appearances.

But it doesn’t just disappear; instead, it bubbles under the surface, creating je ne sais quoi feelings of unease and restlessness that can mimic anxiety disorders. 

And while it’s less apparent than being openly hyper, these feelings aren’t any less impactful, as women with ADHD can live in a world of constant agitation

2. Hypersensitivity

That can sound even stranger than most “well-recognized ADHD symptoms,” but hypersensitivity as a consequence of ADHD is also a thing6

Hypersensitivity means that women can have heightened reactions to certain smells, sounds, or clothing textures. Sounds and lights that are too bright, rough, or subjectively unpleasant can cause unease and provoke sensory overload. 

3. Relationship Troubles

It’s not like maintaining relationships with ADHD is easy, but women tend to have it worse. Besides executive dysfunctioning that loves to rear its unsightly head whenever you want to keep a stable thing going, women have a propensity for another thing called heightened rejection sensitivity.

Women with ADHD may experience an intense emotional reaction to real or perceived rejection.

So, with relationships becoming a source of pain and distress, women with ADHD may try to avoid it altogether, creating a catch-22. 

They can’t form relationships because they’re afraid of them, but they can’t learn how to manage them because they can’t enter them in the first place. 

4. Gender-atypical behaviors

In women with ADHD, certain behaviors typically aligned more with the masculine archetype could surface. That could include exercising dominance, manifesting assertiveness to an extreme, or having a short fuse. 

These may not be the poster child symptoms you'd stumble upon in a hasty Google search about ADHD. Still, they're an integral part of the lived experiences of numerous women navigating life with this condition.

So, yeah, suffice it to say that ADHD for women is a real doozy, and I encourage you to read the article mentioned above to delve into the how's and why’s of their struggles. 

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[Symptoms In Teens]ADHD Symptoms in Teens

Ah, the teenage years. A cocktail of puberty, high school, and an increased demand for independence. Now, imagine adding ADHD to the mix. 

1. Struggling With Deadlines

Does the school project deadline ring a bell? Or the summer job schedule? With ADHD, teens might often find themselves in a cloud of forgetfulness. 

Remembering due dates for school projects, tracking shifts for part-time jobs, or even following a simple daily routine can be like navigating a labyrinth without a map. While not flawed, their memory often grapples with the complex matrix of schedules and time-bound obligations.

2. Emotional Instability

The emotional landscape of a teen with ADHD is more complex than typical teenage turbulence. Their emotional responses are heightened, leading to profoundly amplified feelings and reactions. It becomes not about simply navigating the stormy seas of teenage emotion but about weathering a storm that rages with an intensity that can be overwhelming.

3. Problems With Grasping New Concepts

When it comes to learning new concepts, teens with ADHD may face a few extra obstacles. The challenge isn't about effort; it's about connecting the dots. Grasping the big picture can sometimes remain an elusive goal. 

4. Trouble Staying on Track

The task might be homework, a cleaning chore, or even a fun DIY project. Teens with ADHD often find their focus playing musical chairs, jumping from one task to another, leaving a trail of half-done activities.

5. Susceptibility to Substance Abuse

The emotional instability and teen’s inherent penchant for troublemaking and impulsivity (only amplified by ADHD) may leave them more susceptible to substance abuse. It’s not merely about the quest for a thrill, but sometimes, it’s a means to self-medicate or gain control over the chaos within their minds. Symptoms

[Symptoms in Boys]ADHD Symptoms in Kids: Boys

As with adults, symptoms of ADHD in kids differ from girls to boys. So, it would be important to look at each separately. 

1. Struggles With Sudden Changes

Boys with ADHD often find unexpected shifts in activity particularly challenging.

For instance, transitioning from an enjoyable pastime like video games to a less preferred task like homework can be a substantial hurdle. The abrupt nature of these transitions poses a significant challenge.

2. Memory Lapses

Children with ADHD may have issues recalling past experiences, including the associated emotions. It's not uncommon to repeatedly explain a process as they might not remember how to execute it from previous lessons.

3. Limited Future-oriented Thinking

Visualizing and planning for future events can be a hurdle for kids with ADHD. Their concentration often resides predominantly in the present, which could make long-term incentives ineffective. If a reward for consistently completing homework throughout the week fails to motivate them, it's likely because the timeframe extends beyond their immediate focus.

The ADHD landscape gets even more diverse when we consider gender. Boys, for instance, might have more externalized symptoms like hyperactivity3, making their ADHD more noticeable. 

But girls with ADHD often present differently; let’s unravel how, exactly. 

[Symptoms in Girls]ADHD Symptoms in Kids: Girls

When we picture ADHD, we might think of a hyperactive boy who can't sit still. But ADHD doesn't play favorites with gender.

It affects girls, too, though with ADHD in girls, symptoms will look slightly different.

Similarly to their adult counterparts, girls with ADHD are more likely to exhibit its inattentive form, i.e., more subtle and less “hyper.”

1. Daydreaming

The minds of girls with ADHD may wander off the path of the present, getting caught up in a labyrinth of thoughts. While their bodies are in reality, their minds could explore distant lands or future possibilities.

2. Excessive Talking

Hyperactivity in girls with ADHD might be a verbal whirlwind. They may express great thoughts and ideas, painting the air with words as if language were their canvas. This unending stream of conversation can sometimes feel overwhelming for them and those around them.

3. Difficulty Managing Social Situations

Navigating the intricate tapestry of social interactions can be challenging for girls with ADHD. Reading social cues or gauging reactions may not always come naturally, making each interaction a unique puzzle. They constantly learn, adapt, and improvise through social landscapes, which can be taxing.

One of the biggest challenges with symptoms of ADHD in girls is that they often fly under the radar. Their struggles might be mistaken for 'typical girl behavior' or attributed to other issues like anxiety or depression. As a result, girls with ADHD are often diagnosed later than boys, leading to years of frustration and feeling 'different.'

[Symptoms in Toddlers]ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers

You might think, "Wait, can toddlers even have ADHD?" While diagnosis in this age group can be tricky, early signs of ADHD can surface7. So, let's see what ADHD symptoms in toddlers might look like.

But how do you even figure that out? Toddlers can barely speak or read; they don’t have any “tasks” or “time schedules” to adhere to. 

Some surprising symptoms will make you think: “Wait, that’s an ADHD symptom?”

Hint: yes.

1. Aggressive Interactions During Playtime 

It's common for toddlers with ADHD to display aggressive behavior when interacting with their peers. That may manifest as an inability to share toys or frequent outbursts during playdates. 

2. Delayed Motor Skills 

By the age of 4, most children can hop on one foot. Toddlers with ADHD might struggle with this skill, showing a delay in developing certain motor abilities9

3. Feedback from Preschool or Daycare 

Comments from preschool or daycare teachers about the child's behavior can provide valuable insights. Toddlers with ADHD may exhibit behavior patterns that deviate from their peers' norms, drawing the attention of caregivers and educators10.

4. Difficulties with Group Activities 

Circle time and other group activities often require a level of attention and behavioral control that toddlers with ADHD might struggle with. If your toddler routinely has trouble with these activities, it could be a sign of ADHD.

[Severe ADHD Symptoms]Severe ADHD Symptoms

So, we've navigated ADHD from toddlers to adults, girls to boys, but what about severe ADHD? What does it look like when ADHD symptoms ramp up to 11? Let's unravel this together.

Severe ADHD isn't a separate condition from 'regular' ADHD. Rather, it's when symptoms are particularly intense and persistent, causing significant disruptions in multiple areas of life.

On top of the funky trio of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity being just a little too E X T R A 💅, one of the most unfortunate things about severe ADHD episodes is ADHD burnout.

1. ADHD Burnout

ADHD burnout occurs when the symptoms have been rampant for so long that the brain finally decides: “Okay, that’s it, I quit.” 

So, besides your usual symptoms getting even more so in your face, burnout can make you feel completely out of motivation or will to do anything whatsoever8

Whether due to neglect of your ADHD disciplining routines or simply from trying to do too much at once, burnout can leave you completely paralyzed.

And speaking of paralyzed…

2. ADHD Paralysis

Although it’s more or less the bunk bed buddy of burnout, ADHD paralysis is a different beast. ADHD paralysis occurs, for the most part, in one of the two scenarios:

  • Where choices strand you, and you can’t choose between one or the other option
  • When you’re trying to plan out your day, but the amount and intensity of tasks are so ginormous that you just remain catatonic while also feeling guilty about your “not doing things while thinking about doing things” vibe. 

It’s more sporadic than burnout as it tends to come and go by itself, but ADHD paralysis is arguably a manifestation of severe ADHD symptoms. Depending on its frequency, the constant presence of ADHD paralysis might suggest that ADHDer is a bit slack in proper coping mechanisms and strategies. 

But remember, ADHD is a spectrum disorder. Just because someone's symptoms are severe doesn't mean they're 'worse' or 'less able' than someone with milder symptoms. It just means they might need different strategies or treatments to manage their symptoms.

Understanding the spectrum of ADHD symptoms can make a big difference in getting the right help. 

[Help for ADHD]Seeking Help for ADHD

You've discovered a wealth of information about ADHD symptoms, but you might wonder, "Now what? What's my next step?" 

After all, information is only half the journey; the other half is taking action. 

So, let's talk about how to seek help for ADHD, and no worries, my friends, you won't be going at it alone.

Reach out to a Professional

The first thing you should do is seek professional help from a specialist. They're like the detectives of the mind and can provide a definitive diagnosis. 

So, pour out your heart, and don't hesitate to share every zig-zagging thought, restless moment, or impulse.

Consider Medication Angle

It's not a magic pill that makes everything disappear but a tool that can make managing symptoms much easier. But remember, it's not one-size-fits-all; what works for one person might not work for another. That's why it's crucial to have open discussions with your healthcare provider about the pros and cons.

Mindfulness and Meditation

On the non-pharmaceutical front, mindfulness and meditation practices can work wonders. They can help you learn to focus your mind, giving you a breather from ADHD. It's like a mental vacation, and who doesn't love a good vacation, am I right? 💃

Self-care REALLY matters

Change starts with YOU. Though it would be fancy and dandy if you could just talk to a guy/gal/non-binary pal or pop a few pills to feel like a neurotypical, managing ADHD, unfortunately, requires effort. 

If you’re not:

  • Eating well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get proper sleep

Then all these aids - from apps to medication - can be for naught. To put it plainly: if you feel and behave like a little gremlin, it’s unlikely that you will adhere to healthy habits and routines. 

Instead, you’re more likely to develop unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms that can only make your ADHD worse

[Fun way to manage]

We Also Have A Cool App To Help Manage Adhd In A Fun Way

The other secret weapon to managing ADHD like a pro is having a support group of people who always have your back

This can include your family, friends, and loved ones. But the other group to consider are fellow ADHDers going through the same and similar challenges as you do daily.

That’s what we’ve been thinking of when we created our app, Numo. Created to be a one-way stop for all your ADHD needs, for ADHDers by ADHDers, we sought to design a super app that will have almost everything you need to support you.

And what’s that “almost everything?”

  • A shiny ADHD planner: as straightforward as they come, with an added spice of motivation to tick off those tasks. Think of it as a video game where you're the main character, and each completed task levels you up! 🎮
  • Pink/white/brown noise generator can act like a comforting blanket to hum you up or get your zen back. For those in the unknown, check out the benefits of noise generation for ADHD
  • Squads and tribes are our community’s heart and soul. They're safe spaces to connect, ask, and share - a little corner of the internet where your wins are celebrated and your struggles are understood. It's a hotbed of insights; you might even uncover some sneaky ADHD symptoms. 
  • Our warehouse of knowledge is constantly updated with wisdom and tips for developing coping strategies. Knowledge is power, and we're here to arm you with as much of it as possible!

So, when you're feeling stuck in the wild ride of ADHD, remember that resources and communities like Numo are ready to lend a hand, or in our case, an app.

[Conclusion] Conclusion

So, friends, pals, broskis, amigos…what did we learn today?

  • ADHD is a complex disorder that affects different age and gender groups in unique ways.
  • Starting as a baseline as early as in childhood, ADHD tends to evolve and adapt with age, developing new characteristics with age and biology.
  • Women tend to experience ADHD differently than men. Where men more frequently fall into the hyper basket, women’s symptoms tend to be more subdued and subtle.
  • Severe ADHD symptoms may include constant feelings of paralysis and eventual burnout. Experiencing these two on a regular can be a sign that you need to seek help or reassess your routine.
  • The best way to seek help is to contact a professional specializing in ADHD. Following that, it’s important not to neglect self-care and seek a support network to share your losses and victories. 

ADHD is a  spectrum that varies widely from person to person, across ages and genders. By understanding these differences, we can better identify potential symptoms in ourselves or our children and combat misconceptions and stigma around ADHD.

Remember, ADHD isn't a character flaw or a result of poor parenting. It's a brain-based, often lifelong disorder. But with the right understanding and support, individuals with ADHD can turn their unique brain wiring into their superpower.

So let's continue learning, understanding, and spreading awareness about ADHD. Because everyone deserves to have their puzzle understood and appreciated.

1 J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated  Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents
2 PMC. A review of changes to the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder age of onset criterion using the checklist for modifying disease definitions
3 PMC. ADHD: Current Concepts and Treatments in Children and Adolescents
4 BMC. Psychiatry. Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in girls and women
5 Frontiers. Gender Differences in Objective and Subjective Measures of ADHD Among Clinic-Referred Children
6 European Psychiatry. Atypical sensory profiles as core features of adult ADHD, irrespective of autistic symptoms
7 Curr Psychiatry Rep Preschool Predictors of ADHD Symptoms and Impairment During Childhood and Adolescence
8 BMC Public Health. A cross-sectional study of psychological distress, burnout, and the associated risk factors in hospital pharmacists in Japan 
9 Kenney Krieger Institute. Is it ADHD or Typical Toddler Behavior? Ten Early Signs of ADHD Risk in Preschool Age Children
10 Questions To Ask When You Suspect Your Preschooler Has ADHD
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