Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a common disorder that many people and their families live with. ADHD causes differences in brain development and brain activity that affects attention span, the ability to sit still, and self-control. The tendency to develop ADHD is often present from birth, but many people aren’t diagnosed until they enter elementary school years or later. ADHD can negatively affect a child at school, at home, and in friendships, which is why it is important to diagnose and provide treatment as soon as possible.
One of the reasons that ADHD is difficult to detect in early childhood is that most preschool-aged children exhibit the common behaviours associated with ADHD as part of normal growth and development. These include behaviours such as inattention, impulsivity, lack of focus, and hyperactivity. Home or playgroup settings do not demand focus, patience and self control, which is another reason why it may be difficult to detect ADHD at a young age. As their peers slowly grow out of these behaviours, children with ADHD continue to exhibit them, which may alert parents, teachers, or guardians that ADHD may be present. Here are some other early warning signs of ADHD to watch out for:
- Your child is unable to focus on a worksheet or homework for even a short period of time, even with someone there to assist them.
- If by the age of seven, your child is still exhibiting high amounts of inattentiveness, excessive activity, or impulsiveness.
- You feel as worn out and exhausted by the end of a busy day with your seven or eight your old as you did with a two-year-old.
- When you or a teacher speaks to your child, they struggle to listen and are unable to repeat what was just said to them.
- Your child does not understand certain nuances of social situations that other children are beginning to show understanding of, such as personal space, taking turns in conversations, or asking too many questions.
- They may show signs of emotional turmoil, or have outbursts at inappropriate times.
- You wonder why your child has such a hard time settling down, even after being busy for hours.
- You notice that they struggle with simple chores around the home and personal hygiene. If you ask them to do a simple task such as get dressed for school, you may find them 10 minutes later only half-dressed while they are playing with their toys instead.
- Your child excessively fidgets or squirms when told to sit still.
- Your child is forgetful, and often loses their personal items such as school supplies or glasses on a weekly basis.
- They dislike or avoid activities that take them longer than a few minutes. This could include: school work, reading books, or even mealtimes.
- You notice the above behaviours not once in a while, but daily and long after other children have moved past these behaviours. Every parent may experience these behaviours at one time or another, but it is the constant recurring behaviours that may signify the presence of ADHD.
In order for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, it is recommended that information be gathered about the child from at least one major setting other than the home. This may include reports from teachers or school administrators, bus drivers, and coaches or leaders in extracurricular settings. Comparing the child’s behaviour across settings is an effective way to determine whether the child has ADHD or whether their behaviour changes are due to other reasons such as parenting practices, incorrect academic setting, or other influences. Another key element to diagnoses is the child displaying multiple symptoms consistently over multiple months (usually 6 months or more). Don’t fret if you notice one behaviour on the above list one time, as it is likely just an off day for your child or a normal part of their development. Do notice if you are seeing these signs day in and day out for an extended period of time.
If you notice that your child is exhibiting any of the above warning signs, it is important to speak to your child’s doctor about having them assessed for ADHD. It can be difficult for a parent to determine the difference between “normal” childhood behaviours and those triggered by ADHD. For example: you might think “all six year olds get bored with homework” or “have I not set strict enough boundaries for my child?”. Talking to a professional is the first step towards figuring out the source of the behaviour, and if necessary helping your child manage their disorder in a healthy way while helping you manage your child’s high needs and extra energy. Treatment for ADHD comes in a variety of options depending on the needs of each individual, and your child’s doctor is the best person to ask about various treatment plans.
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