I’m worried that my one-year-old son may have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He races from TV show to book to building blocks like he’s under deadline to save the world, but never finishes any of them. How can I tell if this is ADHD and not just too much little-kid energy?
Only tests can tell you for sure, but certain behavior will give you a clue. When it comes down to it, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a matter of “how much?”
Most one-year-olds have an attention span about as long as the beat of a hummingbird’s wing. They can’t control their impulses, so they race from one activity to another – exploring, learning and growing as they go. So does a child with ADHD … only much more so.
The criteria by which is diagnosed ADHD are really designed for older children and don’t work as well for the infant, toddler or early preschooler.
But research has shown that infants who were later diagnosed with ADHD were often described as having very high activity levels and being very demanding. These babies were unpredictable in their eating, sleeping and stooling habits, making it difficult for their parents to establish a routine. They were also less healthy in the first couple of years of life, and may have had delays in early motor or language development.
Older children with ADHD are described as disorganized, always losing things, unable to concentrate, easily distracted and requiring constant supervision and redirection. They rarely complete projects or tasks, don’t listen, daydream, interrupt, fidget, have trouble waiting turns in a game and act impulsively despite dangerous consequences–for instance, running into a street.
Sure, all children have some of these traits. But ADHD children have more of them – and these characteristics cause problems at home, at school and with their friends.
Unfortunately, there is no simple laboratory test for ADHD. Research is just beginning to identify differences in the actual structure and function of the brain in ADHD individuals. We do know that there are strong genetic ties in ADHD: families in which a parent or another child has ADHD are much more likely to have another child with ADHD. Also, the disorder is more common among boys than girls.
But keep in mind that all that wiggles is not ADHD. Other psychological, medical or developmental conditions can look like ADHD. Before your son can be diagnosed with ADHD, he needs a thorough medical, social and psychological evaluation.
And if your son does have ADHD, it’s very important for him to have parents who are kind, empathetic … and firm. Children with quick tempers and emotions need parents who can keep their cool, no matter what.
I encourage parents of ADHD children to learn how they can be a positive influence in their children’s lives: Take advantage of parenting classes offered through your local hospital, college or school system. Read literature about normal growth and development and behavioral techniques that work best with challenging children. And don’t hesitate to talk to your pediatrician about your concerns.