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What Are the Signs of ADHD in Toddlers?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a common childhood disorder. Children with ADHD often have difficulty controlling behavioral impulses due to excessive amounts of energy and may have great difficulty focusing on tasks. While this is not always an easy disorder to diagnose at any age, it may be particularly tricky when toddlers are affected. Common symptoms that may indicate ADHD in toddlers include excessive crying or fussiness, sleeping problems, and feeding difficulties. Any questions or concerns should be addressed with the child's pediatrician.

When ADHD in toddlers is first suspected, especially before a proper diagnosis has been obtained, parents may often feel inadequate or as if they are doing something wrong. It is important to discuss these issues and feelings with the child's doctor. Local support groups may be available to help the parents cope with the challenges of having a toddler with this disorder.

Some studies have shown that toddlers who learn to walk later than what is considered average or who have trouble maintaining balance may be predisposed to developing ADHD. These early struggles are believed to be caused by an inability for the eyes to work well together. Such brain imbalances are thought to be a contributing cause of ADHD in toddlers.

An inability to sit still or follow even the simplest of instructions may be early warning signs of ADHD in toddlers. These children may become angry easily and have great difficulty controlling impulses. Children with ADHD may hit themselves or others in fits of rage due to this inability to control such impulses.

ADHD in toddlers often involves episodes of unexplained crying. The child may be difficult or even impossible to soothe. Very often, the child will experience sleeping problems from a very young age. The toddler may have difficulty getting to sleep, and once asleep may awake several times throughout the night. These are perhaps the most challenging signs of ADHD in toddlers for parents to handle.

Toddlers with ADHD often have feeding difficulties. This may involve the child refusing to eat at all at times, or the child may become a very picky eater. Some children may seem to have an emotional meltdown when touching certain objects or when wearing certain types of clothing. These sensory disorders appear to be relatively common signs of ADHD in toddlers. Medications are not recommended to treat ADHD symptoms in toddlers, so the parents who seek help are likely to be referred to a therapist who may have some helpful tips that can assist the family during this time in the child's life.

Detecting these indicators in early childhood can pose a challenge, yet it remains crucial for timely intervention. Nevertheless, it is vital to underscore that the process of ADHD testing is intricate and necessitates professional evaluation. By promoting awareness, fostering open communication with healthcare providers, and upholding a supportive and patient approach, parents and caregivers can ensure that toddlers displaying potential ADHD symptoms undergo the essential ADHD testing and receive appropriate interventions.

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Discussion Comments

By anon237248 — On Dec 28, 2011

Medicating a three-year-old for ADHD without first making dramatic adjustments to diet, sleep patterns and environment is borderline child abuse in my book. It's either ignorance about the possible causes of child behavior issues or blatant selfishness because the parents don't want the hassle of special diets and household changes. Either way, the drugged kid is the one who suffers.

By anon195160 — On Jul 11, 2011

My daughter had some issues with hyperactivity, rage, and sleep disturbances (night terrors and sleep walking). We discovered she has fructose malabsorption and a bacterial overgrowth in her small intestine. She also had an intestinal yeast overgrowth. Once treated for yeast, all of her behavioral and sleep issues went away.

Food intolerances/allergies and digestive disorders can definitely cause mood and sleep changes. I would check into that before seeing a mental health specialist or medicating for ADHD.

By burcidi — On Mar 19, 2011

I just heard that some additives in foods and drinks make attention deficiency worse. They gave a list of these additives and I found them in my toddler's fruit drinks and also some snacks and candies! They are: E102, E104, E110, E122, E124, E129 and E211 for short. These are different preservatives and dyes, take a look at the ingredients list to find them.

If I knew about this before, I would not have allowed my toddler to consume it. Parents need to be more alert about this stuff. It's not the most common knowledge and we don't realize what the consequences of these preservatives and color dyes in foods and drinks are.

The news report said that it doesn't cause attention deficiency altogether, but these additives definitely make ADHD symptoms in toddlers and children worse. Watch out!

By ysmina — On Mar 17, 2011

My sister works so I babysit my nephew quite a lot. He seems to have signs of adhd. He is just very active, is unable to sit down and pay attention to anything. I know that he is really smart and he learns fast when he has the patience. But that's the problem, he just wants to run around all the time. He doesn't sleep well as a result. He is exhausted and fussy because of it but refuses to sleep.

We have taken him to the doctor who said that he is a little hyperactive and that he should be checked out by a psychologist who might prescribe some medication. We definitely want to know what the problem is and what we can do to help him, although giving a three year old medication is not an option we prefer.

Could this be a phase that he is going to get through? What if he doesn't get through it by the time he starts school? I think his learning will be really effected then. My sis and I both agree that we should try to do something about it now, while it's still the early stages and he hasn't started school yet.

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