Impulsivity: Signs Your Child May Have ADHD

Impulsivity: Signs Your Child May Have ADHDAre you concerned that your child’s impulsive speech or actions could be one of the early signs of ADHD in children?  Are you familiar as to exactly what those symptoms and behaviors are according to the diagnostic criteria doctors use in determining the presence of ADHD? The signs of ADHD in children can take many different forms, including hyperactivity and inattention, but perhaps the most problematic symptom of ADHD is impulsivity—a symptom that can often lead to multiple problems at school and at home.  To help you understand how impulsivity manifests in the ADHD child, in this article we will take a closer look at impulsivity as a symptom, including some specific actions and behaviors that could indicate the presence of ADHD in your child and the possibility that professional help may be needed to effectively treat the problem.

About Impulsivity

When we speak of impulsivity there are essentially two main areas where it can typically be found in ADHD children:  behavioral impulsivity and cognitive impulsivity.  Behavioral impulsivity describes the actions taken by a child or things a child actually does, while cognitive impulsivity describes the way an ADHD child thinks and makes choices.  Both types can lead to problems and frustration for the ADHD child and those around him.  To give you a better idea of the difference between behavioral and cognitive impulsivity, below we will take a closer look at each of these areas independently.

Signs of ADHD in Children:  Behavioral Impulsivity

One of the hallmarks of ADHD in children is that they rarely stop to think about the potential consequences or effects before they act.  This is what is known as behavioral impulsivity.  Teachers and parents can consistently prod the ADHD child to stop and consider the potential results of their actions, but in most cases, the children are bound to repeat that same action again and again.  Naturally, this creates an abundance of problems for ADHD children in school— disciplinary problems that can not only get them suspended and face additional discipline at home, but can also have an immense negative impact on their academic success.

Studies have shown that the learning threshold for ADHD children is extremely high.  What this means is that without significant excitement and motivation—motivation to get the ADHD child to learn above this threshold—they are doomed to repeat the same behavioral mistakes.

Behavioral impulsivity in children is evident in actions such as:

  • Cutting ahead of others in line
  • Blurting out answers in class before being called on by the teacher
  • Intruding on other students activities
  • Interrupting other people’s conversations
  • Demonstrating aggressive behavior; fights
  • Being loud when they are supposed to be quiet

Signs of ADHD in Children:  Cognitive Impulsivity

Cognitive impulsivity, in simple terms, means that children with ADHD tend to guess at problems, rather than think them through logically.  For example, when teachers give students oral questions with multiple choice answers, the ADHD child will begin to guess—usually very quickly—every possible answer the teacher proposes.  What makes this even more problematic are the rare instances when the ADHD child actually guesses correctly, as this only reinforces the behavior and justifies it to the ADHD child.

Behavioral and cognitive impulsivity are two of the most frustrating signs of ADHD in children, as well as two of the most difficult symptoms for parents and teachers to help manage.  Many ADHD stimulant medications can help lessen these behaviors, but it is only through behavioral and cognitive therapy that these symptoms can be effectively managed.  In behavioral and cognitive therapy doctors will work with children on improving their problem solving skills, and teach them alternative behavioral strategies with which to respond to frustrating problems.  This is often accomplished through role playing, acting out some of the more common scenarios in which children get frustrated, such as academic problems, waiting in line, and forming healthy relationships with their classroom peers.