Does Your Preschooler Have ADHD? 3 Tips for Arming Yourself with Information

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Image via Katie Hurley

Preschoolers are busy.  They talk a lot, eat a little, and always have something to do.  In fact, it can seem as if the only time they stop talking and doing is when they take a mandatory rest.  They are energetic and completely impulsive, to say the least. 

Try not to panic.  A diagnosis of ADHD in a young child does not mean medication is imminent.  In fact, behavioral therapy is the first treatment choice at this age and can be very effective.

So it might seem completely out of the ordinary if a teacher or other childcare professional starts throwing around acronyms like “ADHD”. 

The truth is that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ADHD can be diagnosed in children as young as age four.

Try not to panic.  A diagnosis of ADHD in a young child does not mean medication is imminent.  In fact, behavioral therapy is the first treatment choice at this age and can be very effective.

Making an accurate diagnosis at such a young age can be very tricky. 

Diagnosis of ADHD is based on symptoms related to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  But many preschoolers are inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive.  A large part of preschool is learning to sit still for circle time, wait for a turn, and follow simple directions.  It can be difficult to pinpoint the differences between normal preschool behavior and symptoms of ADHD.

Here are three tips when thinking about your preschooler and the potential for ADD or ADHD:

Image via Flickr/starshaped
Image via Flickr/starshaped

Keep a journal:

To make a diagnosis of ADHD, your health care provider will seek information from you, your child’s teacher, day care providers, and anyone else who spends significant time with your child.

Track behaviors that trigger concern by keeping a behavior journal.  Try to pay attention to your child’s behavior in various settings.  Is waiting a turn difficult at school but manageable on play dates and in smaller settings?  Does your child blurt out answers in anxiety-producing situations but not when feeling calm and in control? 

Ask for regular input and specific examples from your child’s teacher and childcare providers (babysitters can be very valuable resources as well).

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Image via Flickr/mike baird
Image via Flickr/mike baird

Consider other causes:

Exhaustion, family discord, separation anxiety, language delays, hearing or visual impairments, cognitive delays, physical delays, and other medical issues can all cause significant frustration in preschool children.  That frustration often translates to “behavior issues”.

Try to step away from the behavior and consider other triggers before you run to the pediatrician.  It can be helpful to “map” your child – write down all of the things going on in your child’s life that you can’t see just by looking at her.  When you put all of the pieces together, you might find that the behaviors that have you concerned are explained by other factors.  

 

Image via Flickr/sera_leaving
Image via Flickr/sera_leaving

Seek appropriate help:

In preschoolers with ADHD, the intensity of their behaviors is what sets them apart from their peers.  They constantly blurt out answers, are unable to sit still (even for two minutes), and/or they are unable to wait a turn (regularly cutting to the front of a line or demanding materials for a project without waiting, for example).  They might appear more aggressive in their play.  They plow through situations with intensity, and they tend to be very loud about it.

If you suspect ADHD, or your child’s teacher has raised the issue, it’s important to seek an assessment from a pediatrician or child psychiatrist first.  Although ADHD can be diagnosed in preschoolers, the behavior can also be attributed to other factors.  A full medical examination and a comprehensive assessment are essential.

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Does Your Preschooler Have ADHD? 3 Tips for Arming Yourself with Information

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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