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Too Early For Diagnosis? The Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers

Too Early For Diagnosis? The Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers

The common thinking when it comes to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is that they have difficulty sitting still and paying attention. But, since many kids behave that way, it’s kind of challenging to make a diagnosis until they are at school, where the symptoms become more visible compared to their peers. Still, there are instances where parents can spot the early signs of ADHD in toddlers.

Here’s what you need to know about them.

ADHD, An Overview

Before we talk about the early signs of ADHD in toddlers, let’s first have a quick overview of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder often diagnosed during childhood but may continue well into adulthood. While genetics play an important role in the development of this condition, experts also highlight that factors, such as brain injury, low birth weight, and prematurity can also contribute.

There are three types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. The word “predominantly” is crucial because it means that the child can experience symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity – just not equally, unless of course they are diagnosed with the Combined Type.

Signs of ADHD in Toddlers

Like mentioned earlier, it’s fairly common for toddlers (aged 2 to 3 years) to be inattentive, impulsive, and too active. After all, they are learning the ins and outs of their physical ability and the world around them.

But ADHD goes beyond the typical toddler behavior. Experts say toddlers may have ADHD if they:

  • Talk nonstop or too noisy
  • Appear to be restless. They might twist around in their seat, jiggle their feet, or insist on standing up just a few minutes after sitting down.
  • Don’t like activities that require focus, attention, or waiting. When presented with such tasks, they might exhibit emotional outburst, anger, and frustration.
  • Seem to be “driven by a motor”
  • Are unable to listen or focus long enough to accomplish even a small task
  • Climb, run around, and jump continuously even after being told not to
  • Seem to warm up to strangers too quickly

IMPORTANT

Once again, please remember that non-ADHD toddlers can also experience these symptoms. Also, even toddlers with ADHD can focus on a task or toy if it picks their interest.

ADHD Diagnosis in Toddlers

The guidelines in diagnosing ADHD in children only cover those from the age of 4 to 17 years old. Hence, if you bring your toddler to the doctor’s clinic, they may not give you a diagnosis yet.

Still, they might ask you to keep a close watch on the signs of ADHD in toddlers, especially since ADHD in kids might make them more aggressive and fearless. These may result in fights between playmates or injuries.

With that being said, are there cases when doctors give ADHD diagnosis to toddlers? Yes, there are. The US Center for Disease Control reported that in 2016, 388,000 children aged 2 to 5 were diagnosed with ADHD.

Treatment

Considering toddlerhood may be too early for diagnosis, will doctors still consider treatment?

It usually depends on how disruptive the signs of ADHD in toddlers are and their effects to the child’s development. For instance, frequent tantrums, emotional outbursts, being too aggressive, and regularly sustaining injuries, may warrant therapy for intervention.

Besides therapy (and possibly, medication), the following might also help:

  • Understand ADHD and how it specifically affects your child.
  • Continue to form strong bonds. It’s helpful if your child knows they are accepted and loved no matter what.
  • Continue to validate their feelings. While it may seem like a small thing for you, it might be a big deal for your child.
  • Emphasize their positive behaviors.

Key Takeaways

The guidelines for ADHD diagnosis do not cover kids under the age of 4. However, there are still cases when experts diagnose toddlers with ADHD. If you suspect this neurodivergent disorder in your child, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with their doctor.

Learn more about ADHD here.

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Sources

What is ADHD?, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html#:~:text=ADHD%20is%20one%20of%20the,)%2C%20or%20be%20overly%20active., Accessed May 16, 2022

Psychometric Properties of ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30028208/, Accessed May 16, 2022

Is it ADHD or Typical Toddler Behavior? Ten Early Signs of ADHD Risk in Preschool Age Children, https://www.kennedykrieger.org/stories/Is-it-adhd-or-typical-toddler-behavior-ten-early-signs-adhd-risk-preschool-age-children, Accessed May 16, 2022

Diagnosing ADHD in Children: Guidelines & Information for Parents, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Diagnosing-ADHD-in-Children-Guidelines-Information-for-Parents.aspx, Accessed May 16, 2022

Data and Statistics About ADHD, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html, Accessed May 16, 2022

When Toddler Tantrums Are Actually ADHD: Early Signs of ADD and Emotional Dysregulation, https://www.additudemag.com/toddler-tantrums-adhd-emotions-early-signs/, Accessed May 16, 2022

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated 4 weeks ago
Medically reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD