Early Indicators of ADHD

Additude Magazine explains that ADHD is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in children. In 2011, research first showed that indicators of attention challenges could be identified in children as early as 3-4 years with some diagnoses of ADHD given as young at 4-5 years. Research from the CHADD- a nonprofit organization serving Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder suggests that 3-year-old children who show early symptoms of ADHD are more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD by age 13.  Early challenges with attention are not commonly reported to disappear with age, rather they typically become larger hurdles in the learning process. Often, challenges with attention are shown to be first reported in preschool-kindergarten. They are often first reported by teachers as they manifest as behavioral challenges.

Parents and teachers often have difficulty differentiating behavioral challenges from challenges with attention because there is often overlap. Early indicators of attention challenges can include limited follow through with directions as well as increased body movement (e.g. difficulty sitting still, difficulty remaining in a chair, fidgeting patterns).  For these reasons, children demonstrating early attention challenges are often described as kids who ‘don’t listen’ and are ‘always on the go.’

Other indicators of early attention challenges include difficulty managing wait time, marked by impulsivity (e.g. grabbing toys, becoming upset when an item is not immediately available.) In addition, other early indicators including excessive verbal output with challenges implementing early conversational turn-taking.  In play, early indicators of attention challenges can include fleeting interest in play, as children frequently go from one activity to another with limited sustained play. Other early indicators of attention challenges can include limited safety awareness and regulation, contributing to children who frequently sustain injuries.

If parents have questions or concerns with their child’s early attention capacity, it is recommended they consult with their pediatrician to further assess what is to expected given their age. Early identification of attention challenges can assist with early identification of ADHD. Identifying ADHD in early children can assist with developing a core set of treatment and management strategies for the home and school environment.