Can Toddlers Actually be Diagnosed with ADHD?

Toddlers and ADHD

Age of ADHD Onset

The latest research shows that the age of onset for ADHD can be up through age twelve. However, the genes for ADHD are usually activated prior to four years old, and it can actually be as early as infancy.

Because of the nature of toddlers, around half of parents would claim that their toddler is “hyperactive,” yet, only about 5% of people actually have the disorder, which is why it’s critical to have a proper evaluation by a mental health clinician so children are not misdiagnosed.

Some parents of toddlers with actual ADHD may not have noticed the child’s symptoms as clinically significant until the child reaches first or second grade. This is because prior to that age, parents brushed their toddler’s behavior off as “typical toddler-isms.” However, they notice that in first or second grade, the child’s behaviors stick out from their same-aged peers who have begun to “settle down.”

ADHD Treatment for Toddlers: Backing from the National Institute of Mental Health

In the year 2000, Dr. Steven Hyman (Director of the National Institute of Mental Health) made a statement for the record and recognized that preschoolers can in fact have ADHD (even though this was not widely accepted at this time, and some professionals claimed it was only “allowed” to be diagnosed in children age six or older).

Hyman stated that those toddlers with ADHD may be unable to interact happily and healthily with friends and family and to live a meaningful life. Therefore, he urged a push for more studies to be done on ADHD medication for children as young as age three. At the time, he was hopeful that this would allow parents with toddlers who legitimately suffer from this disorder some more treatment options.

ADHD Diagnosis for the Toddler Age Range: Backing from the American Academy of Pediatrics

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics adjusted it’s guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD to include younger children. Since the push in 2000, more research studies were in fact completed, and those results warranted the change to include the diagnosis and treatment of preschoolers.

Are Toddlers Over-diagnosed with ADHD?

Prior to it being “allowed” to diagnose preschoolers with ADHD in 2011, many toddlers were diagnosed with ADHD anyway because clinicians realized the severity of this condition and ethically did not want to deny treatment to someone who could benefit.

Now that it is officially endorsed as standard practice of care to diagnose ADHD in young children, is it possibly over-diagnosed in this age range? The reason ADHD may be over-diagnosed in toddlers is because the range of behaviors considered “within normal limits” is actually quite large, which can be confusing.

For example, let’s take a child climbing on the kitchen table. This may look “ADHD” if it was to occur in a seven-year-old child, but it may not actually be clinically significant for a three-year-old child. Climbing on the kitchen table may not be acceptable behavior for a three-year-old, but it still falls “within normal limits.” Due to this confusion, misdiagnosis can occur.

Are Toddlers Under-diagnosed with ADHD?

On the other hand, ADHD is also under-diagnosed in the toddler age range! This usually occurs because parents are unaware that ADHD actually can exist this young, so unfortunately, they just assume they are just “bad parents,”(when that is not the case) and they do not seek treatment.

Sign-up for DrGreene's Newsletter

About once a month we send updates with most popular content, childrens' health alerts and other information about raising healthy children. We will not share your email address and never spam.

Donna Mac

Donna is the author of Toddlers & ADHD: Relief for Parents, A Guide for Clinicians and Teachers . She has a background in early childhood developmental psychology and has worked professionally with ADHD as a teacher, as a nature-based summer camp director, and currently as a licensed clinical therapist.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

Enter your message.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *