Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers
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Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers

Recognizing ADHD in toddlers

Key points

  1. ADHD can be difficult to diagnose in toddlers because its symptoms may be just typical toddler behavior.
  2. If you’re feeling dubious about your child’s behavior, don’t guess — see your doctor.
  3. Medication and lifestyle changes can help relieve your child’s symptoms.

Does your child have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD? It’s not always easy to tell, since toddlers tend to have difficulty paying attention in general.

But ADHD is more than just typical toddler behavior. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the condition can extend beyond toddler age to affect teens and even adults. This is why it’s important to recognize signs of ADHD in early childhood.

Read on for a checklist of symptoms to watch out for.

Is it ADHD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, toddler-aged children from 2 to 3 years old can display symptoms of ADHD.

According to the NIH, these are the three main signs of the condition in kids over age 3:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity

These behaviors also occur in children without ADHD. Your child won’t be diagnosed with the condition unless symptoms continue for more than six months and affect their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. Great care needs to be taken in diagnosing a child under 5 with ADHD, particularly if medication is being considered. A diagnosis at this young age is best made by a child psychiatrist or a pediatrician specializing in behavior and development.

Difficulty paying attention

There are a number of behaviors that can indicate your child has problems with attention, a key sign of ADHD. In school-age children these include:

  • inability to focus on one activity
  • trouble completing tasks before getting bored
  • difficulty listening as a result of distraction
  • problems following instructions and processing information

Note, however, that these behaviors can be normal in a toddler.

Fidgeting and squirming

In the past, ADHD was called “ADD,” for “attention deficit disorder.” As reported by the Mayo Clinic, the medical community now prefers to call the condition ADHD because the disorder often includes a component of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is particularly true when diagnosed in preschool-aged children.

Signs of hyperactivity that may indicate your toddler has ADHD include:

  • being overly fidgety and squirmy
  • having an inability to sit still for calm activities like eating and having books read to them
  • talking and making noise excessively
  • running from toy to toy, or constantly being in motion

Impulsive tots

Another telltale symptom of ADHD is impulsivity. Signs that your child has overly impulsive behaviors include:

  • displaying extreme impatience with others
  • refusing to wait their turn when playing with other children
  • interrupting when others are talking
  • blurting out comments at inappropriate times
  • having difficulty controlling their emotions
  • being prone to outbursts
  • intruding when others are playing, rather than asking first to join in

Again, these behaviors can be normal in toddlers. They would only be concerning if they’re extreme when compared to those of similarly aged children.

More signs and symptoms

The Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) has identified several other warning signs of ADHD in toddlers between 3 and 4 years old. The KKI notes that children in this age group may become injured from running too fast or not following instructions.

More signs of ADHD may include:

  • aggressive behavior when playing
  • lack of caution with strangers
  • overly bold behavior
  • endangering oneself or others due to fearlessness
  • inability to hop on one foot by age 4

Get it right

It is possible to misdiagnose a child with ADHD because most toddlers will exhibit the following ADHD symptoms at various times:

  • lack of focus
  • excessive energy
  • impulsivity

It’s sometimes easy for parents and even teachers to mistake ADHD for other problems. Toddlers who are sitting quietly and behaving in preschool may actually not be paying attention. Children who are hyperactive might just have disciplinary problems.

If you’re feeling dubious about your child’s behavior, don’t guess — see your doctor.

Next steps

The NIH notes that ADHD is very common among children with conditions pertaining to the brain. But just because ADHD is common doesn’t mean it shouldn’t warrant concern.

If you’re worried that your toddler may be showing signs of ADHD, talk to your pediatrician about how to manage it. While there is no cure for ADHD, medication and lifestyle changes can help relieve your child’s symptoms and give them a good chance for future success.

Read This Next

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ADHD and Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and More
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Girls: Symptoms, Treatments, and More
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