Does My Squirming, Jumping, Always-Moving Pre-Schooler Have ADHD?

Boy Doing Break Dancing MoveAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition that affects school age children and is characterized by the presence of AT LEAST six of the following:

* Has difficulty following instructions
* Has difficulty keeping attention on work or play activities
* Loses things needed for activities at school and at home
* Appears not to listen
* Doesn’t pay close attention to details
* Seems disorganized
* Has trouble with tasks that require planning ahead
* Forgets things
* Is easily distracted

These children are often much more active and impulsive than usual for their age, giving them the bad rap of being ‘difficult’ or ‘behavior problems’. It is more common in boys than girls, and is diagnosed in between 4% and 12% of school-age children in the US, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The causes of ADHD are complex and poorly understood, and its diagnosis and treatment are often controversial, but that’s NOT what I’m here to talk about. What I want you to know is that a diagnosis of ADHD is only appropriately considered in children of SCHOOL AGE. We’re not talking about pre-school or kindergarten, we’re talking about elementary school when kids are developmentally expected to sit still and pay attention.

Any talk of ADHD in a child under the age of 6 or 7 just does not jive with their developmental stage. Particularly for boys, whose developmental clock ticks at a different rate than girls’. Pre-schoolers from 3 – 6 are just discovering how their bodies interact with the outside world they’re being introduced to.

Their pliable little brains and neuronal connections are growing by leaps and bounds — so fast you can almost see it happening. What an exciting and energetic place to be! It’s no wonder they may have it rough sitting quietly in ‘Circle Time’. If you do find them sitting still you can bet they’re accompanying their play with engine noises or special effects.

If you watch a 3 or 4 year old involved in even a ‘quiet’ activity, like drawing or imaginative pretend play, you’ll often notice that they’re narrating as they go. They need to share the story and experience the reaction. They learn through the interaction of their small inside world and the big outside world. It’s not time yet to sit still and keep it in.

So don’t worry about your little wiggle worm, and don’t let anyone else worry you. Enjoy him. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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