Brain Sense

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Is It ADHD or Typical Toddler Behavior?

Ten early signs of ADHD risk in young children


Young children often have problems paying attention or concentrating, but when are these problems serious enough for parents and teachers to be concerned? According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, one in 11 school-aged children are diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but research suggests that the warning signs often appear before a child first goes to school. Some experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of children have significant problems with attention by age four.

Why should parents be concerned about ADHD in their preschoool chidlren? “We want to catch ADHD early because it has such a profound effect on learning and academic development. Children whose symptoms begin in early childhood are at the highest risk for academic failure and grade repetition.” says Dr. Mark Mahone, director of the Department of Neuropsychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD.

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In children ages three to four years, Dr. Mahone recommends looking for the following signs that are associated with an ADHD diagnosis at school age:

1. Dislikes or avoids activities that require paying attention for more than one or two minutes

2. Loses interest and starts doing something else after engaging in an activity for a few moments

3. Talks a lot more and makes more noise than other children of the same age

4. Climbs on things when instructed not to do so

5. Cannot hop on one foot by age four

6. Is nearly always restless — wants to constantly kick or jiggle feet or twist around in his/her seat. Insists that he/she “must” get up after being seated for more than a few minutes.

7. Gets into dangerous situations because of fearlessness

8. Warms up too quickly to strangers

9. Is frequently aggressive with playmates; has been removed from preschool/daycare for aggression

10. Has been injured (e.g., received stitches) because of moving too fast or running when instructed not to do so

“If parents observe these symptoms and have concerns about their child’s development, they should consult with their pediatrician or another developmental expert,” says Dr. Mahone. “There are safe and effective treatments that can help manage symptoms, increase coping skills, and change negative behaviors to improve academic and social success.”

For More Information

Neuropsychology Department at Kennedy Krieger Institute

Faith Brynie, Ph.D, is a scientific and medical writer. She is the author of Brain Sense (Amacom, 2009).


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