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Spotting People With ADHD

I’ll let you in on a little secret: those of us with ADHD have a secret handshake. We start by shaking hands the normal way and introducing ourselves, but then we immediately forget each other’s names.

Some people with ADHD don’t like to be labeled. And then there’s this guy…

In reality, of course, everyone forgets names sometimes. This is one of the things that can make ADHD hard to spot at first glance: if you only observe someone briefly, it’s hard to know if an inattentive slip-up is part of a pattern of chronic inattention, or just the kind of absentminded moment that everyone occasionally has.

For example, if I introduce myself and you forget my name, I wouldn’t assume that you have ADHD. But if I watch you meet ten people over the course of a week and forget every one of their names, I’d start to wonder if something is going on.

Personally, to the extent that I have any sort of “ADHDar,” I find hyperactivity a lot easier to spot than inattention. If someone has a certain “unsettled” type of energy, pacing around, fidgeting, having trouble sitting still, doing things impulsively, and so on, that can be a clue.

On the other hand, I find it harder to pick out ADHDers based on inattention because, like I mentioned, it’s hard to know if something is a momentary slip-up or a symptom that’s part of an ongoing pattern without getting to know the person better.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has an easier time spotting hyperactivity than inattention. It seems like more purely inattentive ADHDers are more likely to get diagnosed late, or not at all. Which makes sense – in very general terms, inattention is more “on the inside” than hyperactivity.

Once you start looking for ADHDers, it’s easy to end up with a high rate of false positives. That is, you assume anyone who shows signs of inattention has ADHD. I can think of one or two people I know pretty well where I wonder if they could have ADHD or if they’re otherwise “normal” people who just happen to be unusually absentminded. Of course, I can also think of one person I know well where I have zero doubt that they have undiagnosed ADHD.

Do you think you could pick out an ADHDer in a crowd? Share your thoughts below!

Spotting People With ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). Spotting People With ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2019, from


Last updated: 11 Nov 2017
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