Melissa Zentgraf knew early on her young son’s behaviors were not like those of his preschool friends.
“He was more persistent in what he would do,” Ms. Zentgraf says. “He would yell a little louder. His moves would be very exaggerated. He would do the activities four times the speed of everyone else, regardless of quality. He would always try to run faster. Everything was just twice as much.”
Ms. Zengraf’s son was later diagnosed at 12 years old with the inattentive type of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, but she suspects ADHD was there all along during those early years.
Young children between the ages of 2 and 5 tend to be impulsive, don’t pay close attention to details, have difficulty keeping focused and do not appear to listen very well. These are all common symptoms of ADHD as well as the characteristics of a young child. How, then, can you as a parent tell if your child has ADHD?
Parents are often told not to compare their children to others, but this is not the case in trying to figure out if a child has a special need. Look at your child’s interactions on the playground, at preschool or around other kids. Does your child have difficulty controlling his or her temper more often than the other children? Does your child fidget and squirm when other kids are sitting still and listening at story time? Does your child have more problems keeping his hands to himself when compared to other kids his age?
A diagnosis of ADHD is based on The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition (DSM 5). The manual lists three presentations of ADHD — Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined, along with the symptoms for each presentation.
These symptoms can change over time, so children may fit different presentations as they grow older.
If you suspect that your child may have ADHD or some other health issue, talk to a professional who is trained to diagnose ADHD such as your pediatrician, a child psychiatrist or clinical social worker. The clinician can conduct an evaluation, which includes asking you and your child’s teachers or child care providers to complete questionnaires about your child’s behavior. In addition to checking for ADHD, your health care provider should check for other conditions that may be present or may explain your child’s behavior if it is not related to ADHD.
Having your child diagnosed with ADHD is not bad news. It just means that your child processes things differently, and you and your family need to figure out how best to help your child to succeed.
The first line of treatment for children under the age of 5 is behavior therapy. This involves parent training with licensed therapists who specialize in ADHD. The therapist teaches parents techniques that reinforce positive behavior and skills in their children. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, talk to your health care provider to create a treatment plan that works best for your child and your family.
Petrina Chong Hollingsworth is the technical science editor for the National Resource Center on ADHD: A Program of CHADD. The NRC provides a helpline 1-800-233-4050, M-F, 1-5 p.m. ET. For more information on ADHD, please visit www.chadd.org/nrc.