Toddler ADHD: Symptom, Treatment and How to Help

According to the National Institute of Health, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is not just a typical behavior among toddlers, but this condition can affect a person even during teenage or adulthood, affecting significantly their quality of life. For this reason, it is very important to recognize the signs of ADHD during early childhood, in order to treat them as soon as possible. However, ADHD is not always easy to diagnose among toddlers as they have difficulties paying attention in general at that age. If you are worried about your child’s behavior, seek professional medical help. There is no reason to wait.

What Are the Signs of ADHD in Toddlers?

As mentioned, ADHD is quite difficult to diagnose among toddlers, especially under the age of 4 years old. This is mostly based on the fact that certain signs of ADHD such as restlessness are hard to distinguish from just a hyperactive and energetic toddler. As children at that age rapidly change and develop, it is hard to differentiate the signs of ADHD.

In general, the signs of ADHD vary from one child to the other. According to researchers, there are three main types of ADHD known:

  • Inattentive ADHD, which was until recently called ADD
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
  • Combined ADHD, a combination of both previously mentioned types of ADHD

Signs of inattention:

  • Difficulties paying attention
  • Difficulties listening to what is being said to the toddler
  • Gets easily distracted
  • Forgets things
  • Is not willing to do things that require mental effort
  • Doesn’t follow the given instructions
  • Is disorganized
  • Constantly loses important things
  • Doesn’t understand given information quickly and correctly

Signs of hyperactivity:

  • Talks too much
  • Runs or climbs in inappropriate situations
  • Moves constantly
  • Can’t play quietly

Signs of impulsivity:

  • Interrupts others
  • Acts without thinking first
  • Answers to the question before it is entirely asked
  • Can’t wait for things
  • Can’t wait in lines
  • Can’t control emotions

If you have noticed any of the above-mentioned symptoms in your toddler and are worried about your child’s health, seek professional medical help.

How Is ADHD in Toddlers Diagnosed?

It is difficult to diagnose ADHD in a toddler younger than 4 years old. However, any healthcare provider should evaluate a child from 4 years old and up to 18 years old if he/she shows signs of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. Healthcare professionals look if the signs are present for more than six months and if these signs have negatively affected the toddler's life when it comes to school, social situation and at home.

When diagnosing ADHD, even though it can be quite challenging, a doctor will need to conduct a medical examination, look closely at a medical history and especially for a family history of ADHD, talk to the parents, caregivers, other family members or teachers and babysitters about the child’s behavior, as well as, compare the signs and symptoms of ADHD.

Other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms like ADHD in toddlers. For this reason, the following medical conditions need to be ruled out first before ADHD is diagnosed:

  • Brain injuries
  • Mood disorders
  • Seizure disorders
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Difficulties learning
  • Language problems

In order to reach a reliable diagnosis, a toddler when being diagnosed with ADHD should be evaluated by a speech pathologist, psychologist, psychiatrist and developmental pediatrician.

What Is the Treatment for Toddler ADHD?

When it comes to the treatment of ADHD in toddlers, there are three options available:

  • Medication
  • Family therapy
  • Behavioral therapy

According to many specialists, in the treatment of toddler ADHD, family therapy and behavioral therapy are enough, and that there is no need for medications. Medications until recently were not recommended for children under the age of 6 years old.

However, newer researchers have suggested that medications for ADHD can help children as young as 4 years old. Usually prescribed medications for the treatment of ADHD are Dextroamphetamine or Methylphenidate. These stimulants aim to regulate the level of brain neurotransmitters.

If your child’s healthcare provider has prescribed medications for the treatment of ADHD, make sure to give the medications to your child yourself in the recommended daily dosage. Keep away the medications so your child can’t reach them. An overdose of these medications can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.

Family therapy, often known as parent training, is perhaps the best treatment when it comes to dealing with ADHD in toddlers. This type of therapy aims to teach the parents how to deal with the child’s behavior constantly, as well as how to adjust the expectations.

Behavioral therapy aims to help parents and toddlers affected by ADHD how to structure any possible situation at home as well as in school, so any stimulation or distraction of your child is avoided. This kind of therapy also helps the child cope with various situations.

What Can I Do at Home to Help My Child?

The first thing is to accept the problem that your child has and to adjust the expectations. Many children diagnosed with ADHD reach to be successful in life due to their creativity. However, you will need to adjust and change the environment where you will raise your child. Here are some tips on how to help your child with ADHD at home:

  • Enjoy every moment with your child. Try to spend as much time as possible on your own with your child, without the presence of other children or adults. Make sure to give and see positivity in your child more than negativity. Accept all the parts that are not so difficult in your child.
  • Change the environment. Eliminate any stimulation or distraction from the environment which will and can affect your child.
  • Structure the day. Toddlers diagnosed with ADHD need to have a routine and a schedule in order to prevent fears and anxiety. There is no need to be strict, but make sure your child knows when the time comes for a meal, nap, bath, etc.
  • Give your child directions. Talk to your child with simple words, slowly and quietly. Make eye contact with your child as well.
  • Reward your child whenever he/she earns it. Dealing with a toddler with ADHD is not an easy thing and it can be quite challenging at some times. Every parent knows that punishing a child with ADHD is often useless. Instead, try to reward your child for a good behavior. Give your child something that he/she will enjoy at the moment, as children with ADHD have a hard time waiting for their reward. 
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