7 Surprising Signs Of ADHD In Toddlers

This guest post is by licensed clinical therapist Donna Mac, author of the new book Toddlers & ADHD. An early childhood teacher, school therapist and mother to twin toddlers diagnosed with ADHD, Mac has a broad range of experience. Here she shares the surprising signs of ADHD in toddlers.

ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation deficits, which trigger inconsistent attention, irritability and impulsive, and hyperactive or aggressive behavior. In the 1-to 5-year-old age range, the symptoms can be confusing because, as you may think, what toddler isn’t any of these things on occasion?! Due to this confusion, some children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD when they are actually just expressing “normal” variations of temperament (albeit not always acceptable variations of temperament, as when your three-year-old takes off her seatbelt in the minivan to dance while you’re driving on the highway).

ADHD is a genetic condition; if both parents have the disorder, the child has up to a 90% chance of inheriting it. Currently about 5% of the population has ADHD. It actually wasn’t even until recently (2011) that ADHD became an accepted diagnosis for toddlers. The latest research shows the onset is usually prior to age four, especially in severe cases, and it can actually occur as early as infancy. If your child shows any of these symptoms on a regular basis for at least six months, and they’re interfering with his functionality, it’s recommended to see a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical therapist.

1. Other toddlers don’t like your kid

All toddlers are working on basic social skills, but it’s even more difficult for toddlers with ADHD to conform to social norms. For example, toddlers with ADHD interrupt people and talk loudly. They tend to get bossy and take over activities: “I like my idea better!” Waiting for a turn is a painful experience for them, and may result in pushing and shoving.

2. He struggles to get to place he’s actually excited to go to

You might think it’s hard to get a child with ADHD to go someplace they do not want to go (which is true). However, with ADHD it can also be the opposite: If the toddler is excited to go to the grocery store, he may actually overreact so much that he can’t calm down to make the transition from the house to the car. The child may begin running back and forth, jumping on the couch and running some more. It’s as if you just told your child he was going to Disney World for the first time.

3. She doesn’t watch TV 

Toddlers with ADHD actually have less stimulation in their brains, and therefore need more to get their brains to a baseline level of arousal. Watching TV does not give most toddlers with ADHD the right amount of stimulation, as would an action-packed video game an activity that involves her whole body. When people say to me, “Too much TV causes ADHD” I say, “I wish my kids would watch TV so I could get some stuff done around the house!”

4. He has the ability to pay intense attention to things he enjoys   

Some people with ADHD hyper-focus. This means that if a child really enjoys an activity, it will stimulate his brain so much that he will become engrossed in it. At this time, he will probably lose the ability to pay attention to things around him, like a parent calling his name, the dog scratching at the door to go out or the doorbell ringing. (Some of us have spouses like this.)

5. She tantrums excessively

These tantrums are a combination of cognitive, behavioral and emotional impulsivity—all three kinds happening at once, so look out! Many will be triggered by seemingly minor events that same-aged peers may not even react to, such as waiting in a short line for a bouncy house or the ice-cream truck, or not getting enough of the right color crayons at the restaurant. In addition, their tantrums are more frequent and intense than their neurotypical peers. ADHD tantrums can last 15 to 30 minutes at time, on a daily basis, and sometimes several times per day. During these tantrums, kids may lose control of their bodies and all rational thought.

6. He puts small parts in her mouth, and frequently chokes while eating 

Since toddlers with ADHD need stimulation, they may get it from putting things in his mouth. Even if a child is 3, an age when kids can start playing with things that have smaller parts, if he has ADHD he may frequently put small items in his mouth, which can be dangerous. He also may choke on food more frequently because of the cognitive impulsivity associated with ADHD, which leads him to rush through eating and other activities.

7. He can’t seem to get off the swings

Most people only associate running, jumping and climbing with ADHD because of the physical movement involved. Some people are unaware that swinging can be emotionally regulating for a child with ADHD, even though a toddler will not have that level of self-awareness to be able to say it himself. Twenty minutes of swinging can provide calming benefits up to four to eight hours after the child is done, because it’s a long-lasting form of vestibular input (the sensory system of movement and balance).

Obviously, if a toddler just likes to swing or just gets excited to go places, she may not have ADHD. Some toddlers with ADHD might watch TV or may not tantrum excessively. Each case is unique. Although many think that children with ADHD struggle all of the time, these children also have strengths and positive traits. If you think something’s not right, talk with a professional.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

From my other blog: 

Kids with intellectual disability can learn to read, finds a new study

The best gifts to give a baby in the NICU

The Supreme Court ditches the term “mental retardation”

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

Image of toddler walking with arms raised via Shutterstock

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