Some children do get an ADHD diagnosis before age four, but it’s uncommon. Once they hit that age four to five patch, start school or become settled in an education setting, diagnosis frequency starts to pick up.
As children develop through the toddler years (usually defined as age one to three), however, early markers of ADHD become easier to spot, and work with, particularly in a childcare setting.
The problem is, typical ‘toddler behaviour’ can really cross over with some of the key signs of ADHD in young children. Difficulty listening or paying attention is super-common in toddlerhood, for example, as is lots of fidgeting and jumping up from their seat.
If your child is in a nursery setting, or other childcare, ask their keyworker, teacher or carer whether they’ve noticed any of these (if they’re not in childcare, have you spotted any yourself?)
- frequently disruptive behaviour
- excessive running or climbing
- squirming while sitting, and/or excessive fidgeting with hands or feet
Alongside harder-to-spot listening and attention behaviours, these markers can help parents and caregivers make a few early adjustments.
Things to do and try
If you think your toddler may have ADHD, a good first step is to make a list of the markers you’ve noticed. Make sure you include the context – for example, were they at a birthday party at the time, or playing in their bedroom? – and how often they happen.
From there, you may choose to book an appointment with your GP or pediatrician, and share this list as a prompt for next steps. If your toddler is in a childcare setting, do get their teacher or keyworker’s professional input too, to build out your observations. They may also be able to point you to professional resources and support, to get a few balls rolling.
If your toddler has a diagnosis, you’re quite far into the process or they’ve reached age four and ADHD has come up as a possibility – now is a great time to get support from a qualified practitioner or therapist. They can help you put specific techniques into play, any help with any behaviour queries you might have.
PsychCentral puts together some fantastic sets of ideas here – from expectations setting and being super-clear with your child, to creating routines and using visual prompts and encouragement.