Ask An Expert / ADHD

Does my child have ADHD or just high energy?

Dr. Koplewicz answers a reader question

Harold S. Koplewicz, MD
Harold S. Koplewicz, MD

President; Medical Director

Child Mind Institute

My son has always been very active. It seems like he never slows down. How can I tell if my child has ADHD or if it's just high energy?

This is an excellent question. Children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not just very high energy kids — they also have severe difficulties focusing their attention and organizing their thoughts. We call what they experience “disrupted executive functioning.” This means that children with ADHD not only struggle with attention, but they also are likely to have problems following instructions and keeping organized. What often happens in a school setting is that they have trouble cooperating with their peers, following the rules in games, and completing assignments. Their challenges are quite distinct from those of children who simply have a lot of energy. Highly energized, active children can usually focus when it is necessary to accomplish a goal.