Preschoolers with Attention Deficit Disorder - Do they Really have it?

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Overview - Preschoolers with Attention Deficit Disorder

A normal preschooler wakes up ready to go, eating breakfast, refusing a parent’s instructions, getting into forbidden objects and activities, falling and getting hurt. Children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder do the same things, so does this mean that preschoolers who exhibit similar behaviors should be diagnosed with ADD?

Pro: Diagnosis is a Matter of Degree

Preschool children can be diagnosed with ADD – but the factor that influences this diagnosis is “how severe are the behaviors or symptoms?” Preschoolers are normally expected to begin separating their identity from their parents, so this is why they say “no.” They are busy exploring and learning new things about their environment, which is why they get into things, not knowing what can be dangerous.

Preschoolers with attention deficit disorder exhibit the same behaviors, but to a higher degree. While preschoolers without ADD can’t sit still for long periods of time, preschoolers with attention deficit disorder can’t sit still, even when engaged in something enjoyable. [3]

Pro: Hyperactivity Symptoms Can Present in a Preschooler

ADD can be difficult to diagnose in any child, but it’s particularly difficult in a preschooler. Because preschoolers are so active, medical professionals have to be cautious in arriving at a diagnosis of ADD in a preschool-aged child.

Preschoolers are still learning to share and take turns; a preschooler with ADD has difficulty taking turns. As a group, preschoolers are still learning social skills; the preschooler with ADD also has poor social skills. These are only two examples of normal preschool behavior that also fall on the diagnosis spectrum for ADD. Others include:

  • The inability to sit still or stay with one activity for more than a few minutes
  • Being in constant motion,
  • Falling frequently
  • Being very talkative
  • Being aggressive and getting into fights
  • Unable to pay sustained attention
  • Displaying behavioral issues
  • Disobeying parents
  • Not appearing to listen
  • Getting into unsafe situations
  • Has underdeveloped or clumsy coordination
  • Grabs toys or other objects from siblings or classmates. [1]

Hyperactivity can be obvious in a preschooler who may also show these symptoms:

  • Talking too much
  • Getting up often to run around
  • Fidgeting when seated
  • Climbing when it’s inappropriate
  • Unable play quietly. [4]

Con: Is it ADD or Normal Behavior?

Healthy children are normally active, ignore their parents and act on impulse – a three-year old doesn’t understand that running into the street without looking both ways is dangerous. Young children, preschoolers in particular, are excited about their world and want to explore everything. Thus, they act on impulse, disobey their parents and run from one activity to the next, just like children with ADD.

Parents who worry that their busy, active and impulsive preschooler has ADD can talk to their doctor, but they also need to remember that all healthy children have short attention spans and have the innate ability to wear their parents out. [5]

Con: Normal Preschooler Behaviors Outlined

Preschoolers learn by encountering new activities and things – they learn from their play. They want to touch and taste and try things out for themselves so they can try to figure out how new experiences work. Preschoolers need space indoors and outside to play and learn about their world. They also need to burn off very normal excess energy. As they learn new physical skills, they fall off bikes, couches and beds. The physical activity level of preschoolers without attention deficit disorder can look just like the activity level of preschoolers with attention deficit disorder.

Preschoolers want to establish their own identity, which is where “no!” and testing parental disciplinary limits begins. A preschooler’s emotions can be extreme. The preschooler sitting in the grocery cart, whining for a packet of gum can quickly erupt into a full-fledged, decibel-defying tantrum when mom says “no.”

Socially, as preschoolers realise they are not at the center of the universe, they learn to get along with siblings and other children. However, many experience trouble forming cordial relations with others and find it difficult to share during this learning process. Preschoolers hit, kick and bite one another. This is not necessarily unusual behavior in a preschool child. [2]


[1] HealthCentral: ADHD in Young Children

[2] University of Illinois Extension: Ages & Stages: Preschool Children

[3] ADDitude: Preschool-Age ADHD Children: Too Young for a Diagnosis?

[4] WebMD: Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder: Symptoms of ADHD

[5] Mayo Clinic: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms