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Does My Toddler Have ADHD?

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One of the biggest questions people ask when it comes to ADHD is… “Does my toddler have ADHD?”

The reason this question is so frequently asked (whether out-loud or subconsciously) is because a huge percentage of toddlers around the world display ADHD-type characteristics. It makes parents wonder… Does my kid have ADHD? Will these traits stick around? Or is he/she only acting this way because he/she is two years old?

It’s a perfectly logical question to ask… but most toddlers show these characteristics BECAUSE THEY’RE TODDLERS.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that only 11% of children in the United States actually have ADHD. While that is a larger percentage than we’ve ever seen before, it also means that most kids probably don’t have it and will not be diagnosed with it.

So if your two-year-old is in a daycare center with twenty kids, only about two of those children (statistically) will actually end up being diagnosed with ADHD. However, if you pop in the daycare facility at any given moment, there will probably be ten or fifteen of those kids running in circles, not paying attention, being distracted by something shiny, doing something that’s not safe, etc.

Does this mean all those kids have ADHD? Most likely not!

Odds are, most of those kids just haven’t developed the abilities to think rationally, yet. They don’t know how to control their impulses, yet. Their brains haven’t developed enough to control their motor movements, yet.

Studies show that many of those abilities don’t start to refine themselves until the ages of three, four, or five. In fact, those are the exact same years ADHD begins to become more apparent in children because those are the years doctors and caregivers start looking for children to mature in certain developmental areas.

When maturation is slower than it ought to be, or doesn’t happen at all, ADHD might be the cause. And even in those situations, there could be a number of causes behind the child’s differing development so doctors are–or should be–very careful about throwing out ADHD diagnoses without ruling out other options first. ADHD can never be assumed without proper behavioral testing.

So remember: When it comes to ADHD in toddlers, it’s not so much about whether or not they show symptoms at that moment, but more about whether or not they will outgrow those symptoms and how quickly that will happen.

There’s also the factor of how difficult it is for each toddler to accomplish certain things. For example, it’s hard for all toddlers to sit still, but for toddlers who will eventually be diagnosed with ADHD, it’s almost impossible for them to sit still.

If you watch a group of children who are all the same age, the ones who have ADHD will be less capable of following directions than the rest. They’ll be less capable of controlling their bodies.

They’ll be less capable of controlling their voices.They’ll probably talk more, run more, disobey more, act impulsively more, and lose focus more.

However, most parents don’t notice those differences until AFTER their child is diagnosed. Many times, parents will look back on their child’s toddlerhood (after diagnosis) and say, “Yeah, I guess it was harder for her to sit still than most kids. And she was more likely to jump off a table than her peers. And she was the one who always had to be redirected. That makes sense now.”

A lot of it is about how the child is in relation to their peers (and to what degree), but so much of it is just waiting to see how they progress over time. You cannot diagnose a child’s ADHD on your own, and you cannot expect a doctor to do it during the toddler years. It’s just not fair to the child or to your family. And it might not be accurate at all!

As difficult as it is, an ADHD diagnosis requires months and months (sometimes years) of EXTREME PATIENCE and observation.

Sometimes, it requires being okay with hindsight instead of foresight.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the earliest age ADHD can be diagnosed is four years old. Before that, their symptoms really could just be age-related, rather than brain-difference-related. And keep in mind that receiving a diagnosis at age four is the earliest age possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average age of ADHD diagnosis is age seven. Most children and families have to wait a lot of years to truly know if their child is developing differently than their peers or just developing a bit slower. Because those two things are very different.

There are so many variables when it comes to making an ADHD diagnosis, one of those being how unique each and ever child is. You can’t throw a child into a room of kids their age and use that to decide where they’re “failing” and where they’re “thriving.” Children are not a numbered list of requirements, and all of them reach milestones at different times.

So if you’re wondering about whether or not your toddler has ADHD, my advice would be to keep an eye on things, do some research about it, talk to your pediatrician, and then wait!

Let them be a child while they can… whatever type of child that may be! Don’t pressure them. Don’t put expectations on them. Don’t wish they were more like someone else’s kid. And don’t assume there’s anything “wrong” with them just because they’re not exactly like Jenson-the-genius from MOPS.

Every child is different. Let them be whoever they truly are and deal with any ADHD symptoms when they’re old enough to know for sure if that’s what’s going on.

Happy parenting, friends.

Does My Toddler Have ADHD?

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2016). Does My Toddler Have ADHD?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2016
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