ADHD in Young Children

By Eileen Bailey

Often, diagnosis comes sometime after the age of 6.  This happens for a number of reasons:

  • The “terrible twos” have many similarities to ADHD.
  • Preschoolers are known to become agitated, excited and “act out” when schedules are disrupted, they are in high stimulus situations or are overly tired.  These behaviors can be similar to behaviors seen in children with ADHD. 
  • Children’s developmental and learning milestones can occur at different ages.  When a child is not maturing at the same level, it is sometimes assumed that they will “catch up” to children their own age within a relatively short period of time.
  • Doctors are sometimes reluctant to diagnose and treat a preschooler for ADHD, preferring instead to adopt a “wait and see” attitude to determine if ADHD is really present.
  • According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, certain conditions must be present for a diagnosis to occur: symptoms must be present in at least two different environments (home and school or home and day care), and there must be clear evidence of clinically significant impairment.  These conditions are sometime difficult for a doctor to determine when a child is two or three years old.

Although some children have been diagnosed as early as two years old, it is much more common for a child to be diagnosed after age six, once they have begun attending school all day.  
Parents of children with ADHD have often indicated that even before school age, they knew that there was something “different” about their child since they were infants or toddlers.  There are some examples of signs that may indicate the presence of ADHD.  However, many children exhibiting these signs grow up to have no problems and are never diagnosed with ADHD.  The following, therefore, is a listing of characteristics that are common in children later diagnosed with ADHD:

Infancy (0-12 months)

  • More fidgety or squirmy
  • Less able or less interested in cuddling
  • Impatient, easily frustrated
  • Require more attention than average baby
  • May sleep less or take short catnaps
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