ADHD is a highly common childhood disorder that impacts approximately 5 percent of children in the United States. However, the incidence of an ADHD diagnosis is on the rise and has been for a number of years. Some studies indicate that as many as 11 percent of children between the ages of 4-17 have ADHD. The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7, however, in light of the increased prevalence of ADHD diagnoses, many parents of children under the age of 4 are left wondering if they might have a toddler with ADHD.
The difficulty in diagnosing a toddler with ADHD is that children that age should exhibit hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. They should be engaged in many different activities, bouncing from one to the next. Exuberant play, albeit without much attention or concentration, is an indication of a thriving and healthy toddler. Because of this, an ADHD diagnosis for a child this young is extremely rare.
If you’re concerned that your very young child might have ADHD, remember that in order for a diagnosis to be made, the child must demonstrate inattention and/or hyperactivity that is not age appropriate. Therefore, a two year old whose attention can only be held for 60 seconds does not fit the criteria, because as mentioned above, that is an age-appropriate behavior. However, very young children who exhibit impulsivity that puts them in danger, such as playing with sharp objects, can be considered for diagnosis. The diagnosis is more easily made if their behavior is causing problems at both home and at school. For example, a child who impulsively hits other children at school, then comes home and hits his or her siblings, might be considered for an ADHD diagnosis.
However, most of the time, children under the age of 4 are simply doing what they should be doing at that age. As your child grows and enters school, be sure to monitor their behavior. If their level of impulsivity and hyperactivity begins to interfere with their ability to learn, interact with other children, or carry out age-appropriate tasks, a consultation with a child development professional may be in order to determine if you have a toddler with ADHD.
In the meantime, there are many things you can do to help guide and direct the activities of an especially rambunctious toddler. Set routines so your child knows what to expect and when. Provide many opportunities for safe play by limiting his or her ability to engage in activities that could cause them harm, such as playing in the street. Provide rewards for quiet, calm play. Also be sure your toddler is getting plenty of sleep. Many experts agree that a child under the age of 4 should sleep around 13 hours per day. Following these easy strategies will help contain your little one’s energy, and, if they are diagnosed with ADHD, will provide excellent boundaries.
For more information about toddlers with ADHD, visit the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Additional information about ADHD and drug-free treatments for ADHD is available by visiting the Learning Breakthrough Program’s drug-free ADHD treatment page.