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Does Your Child Have ADHD?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

In this age of anxiety about raising children and readily available knowledge on the Internet, many people are quick to make their own diagnosis if they see any childhood behavior that doesn’t seem right to them. More than one mother has asked me if their child could have ADHD? That is a question that is difficult to answer, especially when the child is very young. What do you tell a mother whose child is three or four years old?

What I usually tell them is that they should speak to the child’s pediatrician about the issue and take it from there. I have seen cases where the child’s behavior was not found to be indicative of ADHD. I have also seen cases where a child as young as three was diagnosed with ADHD. Very often, when there is a positive diagnosis, one or both parents had the disorder when they were young. Some children outgrow this disorder but many others take it into adulthood. Let’s look at the symptoms of ADHD.

First, it’s important to understand that ADHD is not one diagnosis. ADHD is the heading for all of these disorders. In this case, a child has both the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity. There are also children who have difficulty with attention but are not hyperactive. Finally, there are children whose primary problem is mostly hyperactivity. In school, these children may go unnoticed because they are well behaved and are not noticed by their teachers. Hyperactivity is always noticed because of it stands out as will be seen in the list below.

*The general symptoms of ADHD include:

1. Failure to pay attention or a failure to retain learned information
2. Fidgeting or restless behavior
3. Excessive activity or talking
4. The appearance of being physically driven or compelled to constantly move
5. Inability to sit quietly, even when motivated to do so
6. Engaging in activity without thinking before hand
7. Constantly interrupting or changing the subject
8. Poor peer relationships
9. Difficulty sustaining focused attention
10. Distractibility
11. Forgetfulness or absentmindedness
12. Continual impatience
13. Low frustration tolerance
14. When focused attention is required, it is experienced as unpleasant
15. Frequent shifts from one activity to another
16. Careless or messy approach to assignments or tasks
17. Failure to complete activities
18. Difficulty organizing or prioritizing activities or possessions

*Taken from

Often the first suspicions of ADHD arise when children begin preschool and have to be in a structured environment for the first time. As they progresses through school, other signs of the disorder may become evident. The diagnosis also requires that the symptoms be present in several settings.

Toddlers and preschoolers may be unable to sit still, follow even simple directions, or control impulses. They may become angry for no reason and hit their peers or siblings. They tend to be impatient, breaking in line on the playground, or interrupting others when they are talking or playing. They may move constantly, jump from one activity to another, and have a high level of energy and a low sense of danger. When shopping, they may refuse to sit in the shopping cart or stroller; they may take items from the shelves and open them or throw tantrums if something they want is not purchased.

Keep in mind that, before the age of 5, ADHD symptoms may be difficult to diagnose because most young children are highly energetic, easily distractible, and impulsive. Therefore, the average age of diagnosis is 8 years for ADHD and 10 years for ADD. The difference in diagnosis age likely occurs because hyperactive symptoms tend to draw more attention as a result of the child’s active, noisy behavior than do pure attention problems that are calm and quiet. Observers can hardly help but notice wild and out of control behavior, while they may have to carefully study a child to see the distracted and inattentive behaviors.

If you are a parent of a pre school child and have any doubt about your child having ADHD, then, consult your pediatrician. The earliest possible intervention for this disorder is best. If you are wrong about your concerns then you have lost nothing. The importance of getting an accurate diagnosis, and as young as possible, is to head off school and learning problems later on. Also, a combination of medication and behavior modification are used to reduce symptoms and ease the way to a healthier adjustment at school and home.

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Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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