Preschool age children are often easily distracted and do not have long attention spans, however, symptoms of ADHD often become more pronounced at this age. For example, children without ADHD may stay with an activity for between 10 and 15 minutes, while children with ADHD may change activities every few minutes. However, when interest level is higher, children may be able to stay with a task for a longer time. For example, a child may find reading or drawing, activities that require a child to sit still, may not hold attention but more active tasks, such as playing with cars may keep a child’s attention for longer periods.
Impulsiveness and hyperactivity also become more apparent during the preschool years. Children with ADHD may be in constant motion, they are always rushing or hurrying from one activity to another, resenting having to take time to eat or even use the bathroom. At this age, children with ADHD may jump from playsets, fall out of windows or run out into the street without thinking.
While children without ADHD may be able to sit and play for 10-15 minutes, allowing parents a small break, children with ADHD often must be supervised every moment.
According to an article, “What is ADHD?” [“What is ADHD?”, 2002, Jim Chandler, M.D., Attention Deficit Disorder Resources], states that preschool children with ADHD:
Have poor social skills
Are more aggressive than peers without ADHD
Disobey twice as often
Display inappropriate behavior 5 times as often
ADHD is difficult to diagnose in preschool children. This is because children develop at different rates and therefore a wider range of behaviors is accepted as normal. Children with hyperactivity or impulsiveness may be easier to diagnose before school age but doctors can be hesitant to make a diagnosis before a child enters school.
Some common characteristics of ADHD in preschool children are:
- Inability to sit still
- Lack of interest in quiet activities or in listening to stories
- Changes activities every few minutes
- Inconsistency in attention skills, may be able to hold attention when an activity is interesting, but not able to keep attention for other activities
- Always in motion, sometimes running without looking, may run into street or fall often
- Can be very talkative
- Poor social skills
- Behavioral problems, not listening, disobeying or consistent unsafe behaviors
- Can be clumsy or have underdeveloped coordination
- May grab toys from classmates, siblings or friends
- Difficulty waiting for their turn
- May be aggressive, causing fights or hitting other children
Medications for ADHD have not been shown to be as effective in treating children of this age and have not been tested as often as in school age children. Medication is sometimes used, however. Other treatments, such as parent training and behavior modification programs have found to be effective strategies. Some organizations, such as the YWCA, offer parent training programs.
“What is ADHD?”, 2002, Jim Chandler, M.D., Attention Deficit Disorder Resources
“(ADD) ADHD at Different Ages”, Date Unknown, Author Unknown, Edge Foundation
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, 2008, Aug, Kevin Leehey, M.D., LeeheyMD.com
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”, 2008, April 3, Author Unknown, National Institute of Mental Health
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.