It's normal for very young children to talk uncontrollably, have difficulty sitting still at the dinner table, and avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort. After all, many desired behaviors are more developmentally appropriate for elementary-aged children than for pre-schoolers. Are preschool kids too young for an ADHD diagnosis, especially when it is normal for them to be impulsive, hyperactive, and inattentive?
The medical diagnosis of ADHD is given to a child if he or she meets 12 out of 18 diagnostic criteria in two different settings for at least six months. These criteria include behaviors like "does not follow through on instructions," "runs as though driven by a motor," and "often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat." Telling as these behaviors might be, these symptoms of ADHD do not necessarily point to an attention disorder. ADHD symptoms can be red flags for unrelated conditions such as inner ear dysfunctions, learning disorders, or sensory integration disorder. Detecting ADHD in pre-school aged children is even harder because the diagnostic criteria point to behaviors appropriate to their age.
Some experts claim to have determined two behavioral patterns that predict an ADHD diagnosis in late childhood. The first is preschool expulsion due to refusal to join in school activities, aggressive behavior, and the inability to respect classmates' boundaries or personal property. The second is peer rejection, when the child is avoided by other kids. Although ADHD might not necessarily be responsible for these problems, it's best to take your child to a doctor to find out the real cause behind these extreme cases.
But what should you do if your child is diagnosed with ADHD? Try getting a second opinion from a holistic doctor trained in functional medicine. Some psychiatrists make hasty ADHD diagnoses after checking symptoms off a list, but a holistic doctor will put your child through various tests to determine the presence of ADHD and what may have caused it. Meanwhile, making some environmental changes might reduce some of the symptoms. If your child goes to a large preschool, trying moving him or her into a smaller preschool with fewer kids, a strong routine, and less extraneous stimulation. A preschool with a small student-to-teacher ratio will make it easier for your child to socialize and receive the extra attention needed.
Behavior therapy is also very effective for very young children. A large study called the Preschool ADHD Treatment Study just discovered that behavior modification can reduce ADHD symptoms in preschool children, even if they experience severe ones. If your child does not respond to behavior modification, a diet change might be in order. Many cases of ADHD are due to food substances like artificial additives, gluten (from wheat), casein (from milk), and other intolerances. Specialized tests from a holistic doctor can determine if food intolerance is behind hyperactive and inattentive symptoms.
ADHD diagnoses are very useful for identifying problems that can interfere with your child's development, but just remember that there are ways to treat hyperactivity and inattention without subjecting your child to stimulant medications.
Dr. Yannick Pauli is an expert on natural approaches to ADHD and the author of the popular self-help home-program The Unritalin Solution. He is Director of the Centre Neurofit in Lausanne, Switzerland and has a passion taking care of children with ADHD. Click on the link for more great information about what is adhd.