Children as young as the age of four can be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Toddlers and preschoolers may be overlooked in an ADHD diagnosis because age-appropriate behaviors, like not following directions, low attention span, and boundless energy, mimic the symptoms of ADHD. Frequently, it is not noticed until a child enrolls in a daycare or school when parents notice any problems. The structure and routine of daycare or the classroom can exacerbate any underlying issues that may have been missed at home. Additionally, the presence of other children allows parents and educators to compare a child’s behavior to those of his or her peers.
What are the Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers & Preschoolers?
Every child with ADHD will exhibit a unique combination of symptoms. Some common things to look out for in young children are:
- The inability to sit still
- Not wanting or being unable to take naps
- Trouble falling asleep at night
- Talking out of turn or continuously interrupting
- Speaking with a loud voice
- Talking constantly
Toddlers with ADHD are prone to becoming disciplinary problems at daycare or in school. This can lead to a negative precedent: these children may develop a bad reputation among their teachers and peers or may feel like they are constantly isolated or “singled out.”
The Next Steps for ADHD
Hyperactivity and impulsivity do not always equate to an ADHD diagnosis. Some behaviors or mannerisms may result from an underlying physical or mental problem such as poor vision, a hearing impairment, or a learning disability. Besides, attention deficit like behaviors can be common and transient for young children.
If you suspect that your toddler or preschooler may have the ADHD, the first step is to see a health professional. Once you have ruled out any physical causes, a pediatrician or child psychiatrist will delineate a diagnosis plan. Usually, ADHD symptoms must be present for at least six consecutive months to qualify for a definite diagnosis. Additionally, these symptoms must manifest in several areas or environments, which means that they should not be unique to only home or school.
If your child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, then there are a variety of treatment options available. Medication usually is not the first line of attack. For preschoolers and young children, behavior therapy is likely to be more successful; early on, parents can encourage positive behaviors and coping mechanisms while quashing negative behaviors or “bad habits.” Behavior therapy focuses on changing how a child approaches a situation or environment. Parents and teachers implement a reward system, meaning that good behaviors are greeted with positive feedback, and bad behaviors are ignored. Another component is to apply structure and routine at home, which can range from a general daily schedule to more specific times for tasks, depending on your child’s needs.