10 Surprising Physical Signs of ADHD

Physical Signs of ADHD

Is your day practically ruined when you have a t-shirt tag rubbing against the nape of your neck? Do you prefer dimly lit or dark rooms? Do you love music, but have a challenging time at concerts because the music is too loud?

When we think about people who have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)—also called ADD (attention-deficit disorder)—we don’t usually connect it to these symptoms, but they are related. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience provides robust evidence of the link between ADD/ADHD and sensory over-responsivity.

For those who have ADD/ADHD, it is difficult if not impossible to block out stimuli from the environment, making it hard to focus on the task at hand. This is not just a feeling; the prefrontal cortex is responsible for tuning out incoming sensory stimulation. People with ADD/ADHD generally have low activity in the prefrontal cortex and as a result, are challenged with distractibility and hypersensitivity to stimuli.

If you have ADD/ADHD, seemingly minor things like an aversion to your t-shirt tag rubbing against your neck or difficulty tolerating loud noise, bright lights, or other environmental stimulation are all physical symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Click To Tweet

See how many of the following physical signs of ADD/ADHD apply to you or someone you love.

10 Physical Symptoms of ADD/ADHD

1. Insomnia

A 2018 study published in Nature and Science of Sleep reviews the various ways that people with ADD/ADHD are affected by challenges with sleep such as insomnia, disrupted sleep, feeling more awake in the evening due to circadian rhythms being “off,” daytime sleepiness from poor sleep quality during the night, and an overall sense of a lower quality of life.

2. Pacing

Research published in the Journal of Child Neuropsychology found that children with ADD/ADHD were more inclined to move more often and with more intensity than children who do not have ADD/ADHD. Pacing and frequent shifting in their seats, as well as leg shaking, are ways to increase dopamine, which then helps with focus and concentration.

3. Irritation from clothing textures/tags

Feeling even the slightest friction on the skin of someone with ADD/ADHD can be overly stimulating. It might feel like it must be fixed immediately or they’re going to lose it. It doesn’t mean they’re being dramatic. Being in tune with subtle changes in the environment is common in people with ADD/ADHD when their sensory system is chronically on overload. Having too much input can be from an accumulation of many small things that then set them over the edge.

4. Aversion to bright lights

People with ADD/ADHD might prepare dinner in a dark kitchen or read a book with dimmed lights. Soft, warm light is more desirable versus brighter, intense lighting like fluorescent or some LED bulbs. Data from a study published in Frontiers in Neuropsychology show that 69% of those with ADD/ADHD wore sunglasses more frequently than those without the condition and had a hard time with bright light from the sun.

5. Sensitivity to loud noises

Whether at a restaurant, nightclub, or party, the buzz of background noise—such as people talking, music playing, or dishes clanking—can ruin an otherwise fun evening for those with ADD/ADHD. Being thoughtful about how much noise is tolerable is important, and it might be helpful to wear earplugs in unusually loud environments.

6. Intense scents are bothersome

Does Aunt Margie’s strong perfume make you gag or give you a headache? You’re not alone! Many people with ADD/ADHD find that they cannot tolerate scents such as perfumes, incense, or even freshly mowed grass.

7. Revulsion to certain food textures

People with ADD/ADHD may find certain food flavors and textures disgusting. They might eat the same foods repeatedly as there is a small number of foods that work for their palettes. No matter how difficult it is to eat nourishing food, it is vital for those with ADD/ADHD. Micronutrients increase gut health, which is vital in managing the condition.

8. Foot tapping and leg shaking

If the person sitting behind you on the bus or airplane is shaking your seat, they might have ADD/ADHD. The urge to move is almost reflexive in those with ADD/ADHD and can be annoying to others. Lead with compassion when you are interacting with someone who is tapping their foot or shaking their legs; they’re just trying to regulate chemicals in their brains and make it easier to focus.

9. Incessant talking

People with ADD/ADHD tend to talk more often, interrupt people, and have a hard time being quiet overall, even when alone. There is a level of excitement and animation that you might hear, and a desire to get the words out as quickly as possible. Data from one study examining language and ADHD show that executive functioning deficits make it hard to stay quiet. It is common for people with ADD/ADHD to blurt out things while the person they’re interacting with is mid-story due to challenges with self-control and regulation.

10. Yelling

It may seem ironic that loud noises are hard for people with ADD/ADHD yet it is common for those with the condition to yell or speak loudly. The inability to regulate certain areas of the brain that control impulsivity is at play, as is the challenge to pick up on social cues and tolerate things that trigger anger. Understanding the symptoms of ADD/ADHD and getting a proper diagnosis can open the door to implementing effective tools and curbing verbal outbursts.

If you notice several of these physical symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it could be a sign of undiagnosed ADD/ADHD. Or, if you—or someone you love—have already been diagnosed with the condition, being aware of these common physical behaviors associated with it can increase compassion and understanding.

ADD/ADHD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Hallo !! I m very interested in your work. Have you worked with children of a mother with Asperger or emotional psychosis ?
    Thank you !
    Looking forward to hearing back from you.

    Comment by Isabel Salinas — March 26, 2023 @ 10:50 PM

  2. Are there ways to stimulate these under active areas of the brain to solve the problem? (Balance the activity for good as opposed to taking supplements/meds forever) Thanks for all you do!

    Comment by Leah — March 31, 2023 @ 5:45 AM

  3. Definitely believe ADHD, ADD, Autism caused by vax!

    Comment by Frederika ten Hoopen — March 31, 2023 @ 7:10 AM

  4. Hi. I am diagosed with ADD. I have been dealing with severe insomnia. Do you have any advice for me?

    Comment by Brian Lichtyl — March 31, 2023 @ 6:21 PM

  5. Is their way. To have a phone consultation?

    Comment by Joy — April 1, 2023 @ 9:40 AM

  6. so maybe ADHD is the reason I never got above a C in conduct irn elementary school and was kept out of study halls in spite of my dad being the superintendent of schools. Now at the age of 74 the main problem is bright lights and loud music and of course talking too much. Thank you again for useful information!!

    Comment by Sally shinn — April 1, 2023 @ 10:59 AM

  7. i think we are missing a trick – tis like the answer to stomach cancer with so many doctors concentrating on other things it took about 14years for a doctor to get heard that it was an overgrowth of a particular bacteria – helicobactor paylori.
    i believe much of the 'problem' comes from how the skull is sitting on the neck and shoulders and whether the skull bones are sitting properly.
    the sphenoid – the skulls central bone holding the ears, eyes. pituitary etc – if it is out of position then all the skull bones will be too – nothing in the brain will work in sync as is meant to
    read temperomandibular dysfunction and systemic distress by j glaister – world renouned dentist – treats people like olympic athletes

    Comment by penny waters — April 2, 2023 @ 6:10 AM

  8. Has any research been done on resting heart rate of people with ADHD?

    Comment by Maria — April 8, 2023 @ 3:49 PM

  9. Hi! I'm a 14 year old female struggling with my ADHD/ADD. What can I do to help my impulses and other things?

    – Olivia Peyton La Vanway

    Comment by Olivia — September 7, 2023 @ 1:06 PM

  10. First of all it’s just so sad to hear that so many people still fear a link between the vaccine and autism and ADHD. I was later as a 39 year old mum of 4 AFTER 3 of my 4 children had been diagnosed 2 of whom had been vaccinated fully one whom had allergies and couldn’t be and the 4th has now received duel diagnosis.
    This is genetic. It’s not caused by a vaccination that saves millions of lives AND if it ……..was I’d much rather bless my children with their unique gifts than risk not having them at all! Autism isn’t a walk in the park, nor is ADHD. My childhood makes a lot more sense now than it did before my diagnoses and yet there’s a loss and a grief. A person a won’t ever get back or will never be and the children I had imagined from before their births have been grieved for because: Autism changes everything. It changes the way you see, hear, smell, feel, touch. Taste and remember things. It affects relationships, parent to child . Mother lover. Sister . Brother . Daughter . Son. Grandchild. Autism IS EVERYTHING about us and but means NOTHING AT ALL to anyone. Autism doesn’t make it impossible if you work impossibly harder!

    Comment by Rebekah — October 3, 2023 @ 5:02 AM

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