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What is Hyperactivity?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hyperactivity is a difficult term to define, since it means many things to many people. Hyper, means "above," and activity scarcely needs an explanation. In strictest definition, hyperactivity refers to activity, most often physical, above the normal level for a person within a particular age group. There are moments when we all may feel a little hyperactive or behave so. We might be excited about an upcoming event and unable to sit still or when we go to sleep, our minds race and we have trouble staying asleep.

For children, hyperactivity usually refers to a set of behaviors: twitching, wriggling, being unable to stay seated, or having parts of the body constantly in motion, like a jiggling foot or a bouncing leg, or alternately, being unable to remain quiet when a teacher is talking. Think Robin Williams during one of his comedy routines or even in an interview (without the profanity) to get a sense of the hyperactive child. This is often paired with an extremely short attention span, especially in school settings. When the two are noted together, they may suggest a condition called attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It is very difficult to diagnose ADHD, especially when kids show hyperactivity prior to school age, and in the first few years of school. Children, and most especially boys, tend to need a higher level of activity than the school setting allows. Being unable to sit or pay attention for a half hour or more is not necessarily ADHD or hyperactivity, especially in young children. It merely signifies that the child has not yet mastered that facility. Realistically, most children cannot be diagnosed with ADHD until they are in second or third grade at the earliest. In all cases, a doctor, like a developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist, should make diagnosis since ADHD is considered a medical disorder.

ADHD is not the only cause of hyper behavior, which is why the condition requires medical attention if it persists and does not improve. Children with poor sleep habits may be regressive in behavior and exhibit hyperactive behavior. One recent study suggested that children who snore may be particularly prone to hyperactive behavior, and when they have their tonsils and adenoids removed, they may cease to be hyper.

Other conditions like high thyroid levels, bipolar disorder or lead poisoning can cause a usually calm child to become hyperactive. High levels of anxiety, significant problems at home between parents, or child abuse might all lead to hyperactivity. Yet it’s very important to remember that diagnosing this condition doesn't occur over a few days, but may be a matter of a few years.

There’s significant debate in the scientific community and among parents on how to treat hyperactivity. Some believe that the best course is to treat the condition with medications that help to calm the child, or even the adult. For children, these are usually stimulants, which actually have a reverse effect. Some suggest diet changes, like switching to high protein diets for kids and adults who may have ADHD. Others believe the condition is only a disorder in so far as it interferes with parents or teachers’ lives, and that children will outgrow it. There is evidence that a small group of people does not outgrow the condition, but agreement on actual percentages is hard to find.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon162022 — On Mar 22, 2011

i was so excited while writing my experiences to you all that i forgot my main point. The best thing you can ever do is let the hyperactivity flourish in the person. it has so much power if directed properly can make the person in question's mind bend to any and every task that is put before them.

By anon162021 — On Mar 22, 2011

I was a hyperactive child and now at the tender age of 24 i feel it returning. I feel like a new person, full of energy and life with huge surges of dedication and energy that i have the ability to focus into multiple projects at the same time.

One of the best things about having a hyperactive mind, in my opinion, is the ability to perceive lots of information at the same time and process it properly.

Yeah, i talk too fast and type too fast and make clumsy mistakes with the pace at which i do things, but compared to my stoner friends i feel amazing. i have experienced all sorts of mindsets and this is by far the best. It is the antidepressant.

By cupcake15 — On Feb 28, 2011

Sunshine31 - I agree that therapy can really help children learn how to condition themselves to behave in certain situations. I know that there is a fantastic group called CHADD which is a nonprofit organization that has chapters all over the country and focuses on ADHD advocacy issues.

They offer an online forum for parents of children with ADHD so that they can discuss challenges and success stories.

There is also information on local providers that offer ADHD testing and treatment. CHADD also gets involved in legislative issues pertaining to ADHD and are a really active group.

By sunshine31 — On Feb 26, 2011

Crispety - I know that many children have varying degrees of hyperactivity disorder but cognitive behavioral therapy also helps these children learn how to control some of their impulses.

The therapist will often resort to role playing as a form of modeling the acceptable behavior. There is also a lot of journaling in this type of therapy because many of the impulses are linked to emotion.

This type of therapy can also help children learn how to act in social situations and make friends easier. Hyperactive children cannot read social cues well and tend to be impulsive.

They sometimes come across as overzealous and many are rejected by kids in their peer group. Hyperactivity disorder does not only make class work difficult but it also makes making friends a lot hard too.

By Crispety — On Feb 24, 2011

Anon72089 - What an inspiring story. Your daughter is lucky to have a parent like you a lot of other parents would have probably given in to the doctor and put their child on medication.

I know that ADHD medications are supposed to be safe but there are no long term studies to show that there will not be any adverse effects of this medication. The warnings alone are enough to scare a parent into not having the child take the medication.

We see drugs pulled off the market all of the time because of the negative side effects. Why take that risk? There are a lot of liability lawsuits regarding Ritalin because it makes some children develop violent tendencies and may even become suicidal.

I think that we over medicate children so that they can fit in a box but it is a really dangerous trend to try to make children become little adults.

By anon72089 — On Mar 21, 2010

I have got a hyperactive daughter. she is ten now and i found out she was hyperactive at the age of nine months old. I was hyperactive when is was a child.

I put my daughter now a hyperactive diet at that age. She is now a lot better with a lot of hard work and routines. She is above average in most classes at school. She may have a bad one in a blue moon.

People thought I was cruel because of her diet but the school doesn't even know she was hyperactive. There is hope out for parents with out going to drugs. They wanted me to put my daughter on drugs at two years old.

With patience and a good support system i made it work and i think i am better that way and i know she is. I hope this helps.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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