Someone writing the word "ADHD" on a chalkboard.
There are three different levels of ADHD: mild, moderate, and severe.

Understanding the Levels of ADHD

Not everyone is familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and with the introduction of ADHD levels in the medical vocabulary, even less people know what the three levels of ADHD are.

Before you read about the levels of ADHD, it is important to know the three major types of ADHD. If you are already familiar with these, please skip to the next part of the article.

Primarily Inattentive ADHD

People with the inattentive type of ADHD struggle to sustain their focus, especially when it comes to things they consider boring. Children with inattentive ADHD are sometimes not diagnosed or misdiagnosed because they do not exhibit disruptive behaviors that are the stereotype of ADHD.

Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

People with this type of ADHD often show more disruptive behaviors. However, that does not mean they talk all the time or move around 24/7.

Signs of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD include:

  • Not realizing when it is time to stop talking, or when it is time to sit down
  • Feeling restless
  • Struggling with self-control

Primarily Combined ADHD

This type of ADHD applies to people who have several symptoms of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. Most people with ADHD will have inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. However, if they have several symptoms from each type, they will be considered as having combined ADHD.

The 3 Levels Of ADHD

The 3 levels of ADHD are: mild, moderate, and severe.

1. Mild

Someone with a mild level of ADHD has the bare minimum amount of symptoms required to be diagnosed with ADHD. Their symptoms show minimal impairment in terms of social, school, and work settings.

2. Moderate

Describing the moderate level of ADHD is not easy compared to the mild and severe forms. Imagine if everyone with ADHD was ranked on a scale from 1 to 10. Well, people with a moderate level of ADHD would range from 4 to 7. In other words, their symptoms are not mild, yet they are not severe either.

3. Severe

This is the highest level of ADHD. Someone with a severe level of ADHD has many more symptoms present than the minimum amount required for an ADHD diagnosis. The symptoms can be overwhelming and cause major impairment at work, school, or in social settings.

Here’s an example: An adult with mild hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may feel the urge to stand up even though they are expected to remain sitting. However, the adult will resist the urge and remain sitting. But an adult with severe hyperactive-impulsive ADHD will usually act on that urge, even if they know they will get in trouble.

Someone with mild inattentive ADHD will occasionally get distracted while completing an assignment. Whereas someone with severe inattentive ADHD might take 30 minutes longer than everyone else to complete their assignment. The reason they take so much longer than everyone else is because they get distracted.

Most clinicians will recommend you use a scale to be able to determine your level of ADHD.

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ADHD Rating Scales and Why They’re Needed

The rating scales act as an evaluation of ADHD.

To use the scales, first you will need to answer several questions. Depending on the number of questions, it could take you 5 to 20 minutes to figure out what your level of ADHD is. Some ADHD rating scales are free, while others cost up to $140.

There are a variety of scales designed for children, teens, and adults:

  • Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-3) — for ages 2 to 21
  • National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) Vanderbilt Assessment Scale — for ages 6 to 12
  • Conner's Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS) — for ages 6 to 18
  • Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Symptom Assessment Scale for Adults (BADDS)
  • Adult ADHD Clinical Diagnostic Scale (ACDS)
  • ADHD Rating Scale-IV With Adult Prompts (ADHD-RS-IV)

When it comes to symptoms, some can cause you more difficulty than others. The symptoms you have and the way you manage your symptoms determines how your ADHD will uniquely affect you. A rating scale will help you understand the unique challenges posed by your ADHD, giving both you and your treatment provider insight into how to overcome those challenges.

Rating scales should be used with the help of a health professional. Rating scales should not be used to diagnose someone with ADHD. In fact, it is now common practice for doctors to use rating scales on their patients before giving a diagnosis.

Tailoring ADHD Treatment Based on Your Level of ADHD

There’s no single treatment used for each level of ADHD. For people with ADHD, nobody has the exact same symptoms as someone else.

Someone with a mild level of ADHD might be able to manage their ADHD without any treatment at all. Of course, they will have to teach themselves a few things about managing their ADHD, but those things are learned naturally over time through trial and error.

However, someone with a moderate or severe level of ADHD will most likely need professional help. Common options for ADHD treatment include therapy and medication.

Sometimes only therapy is needed, or sometimes only medications are needed. In some cases, both treatment options are combined into a single treatment for maximum effect.

As someone with ADHD gets older, many of their symptoms will get easier to manage. This is because over time, they will become more experienced at managing their ADHD.

Never gamble when it comes to personal health and always ask questions if you feel unsure or confused about what to do to treat ADHD.