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Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers

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Some toddlers might have common signs of ADHD. However, these signs and symptoms may be normal and age appropriate or may suggest the need for an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) assessment. ADHD is more than just a normal child activity. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the disorder may extend beyond childhood to affect teenagers and even adults. That’s why it’s important to identify early childhood symptoms of ADHD in children.

According to the NIH, these are the three major symptoms of ADHD in toddlers over the age of 3:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsivity

Types of ADHD

Three types of ADHD have been defined. Each of them has different symptoms, and therapies are focused on those symptoms. The three primary types of ADHD are:

Inattentive/distractible type: This type is predominantly by inattention and distraction without hyperactivity.

Impulsive/hyperactive type: This type is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviour without inattention and distraction, the least common type of ADHD.

Combined type: This type is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviour, and by inattention and distraction. However, this is the most common and combined type of ADHD.


Any of the signs noted in childhood may be related to the development of ADHD. However, these behaviors also occur in toddlers without ADHD. Your child will not be diagnosed with a disorder until symptoms occur for more than 6 months and impair their ability to engage in age-appropriate activities.

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Care must be taken to diagnose child under 5 years of age, particularly if medication is considered. Therefore, diagnosis at this early age is best done by a child psychiatrist or paediatrician specialised in behaviour and growth. Many child psychologists would not make a diagnosis until the child is in school.

This is because the key criteria for ADHD is that the symptoms are present in two or more cases. For example, a child has symptoms at home and at school, or with a parent and with friends or relatives. ADHD is more common in males than females, and behaviours in boys and girls can be different. For example, boys can be more hyperactive than girls.


The core concepts of ADHD include inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour. According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of ADHD begin before 12 years of age and are apparent in some toddlers as early as 3 years of age.

A child with a symptom of inattention type:

  • cannot pay close attention
  • make mistakes in schoolwork
  • has trouble staying focused
  • appear to not listen
  • has difficulty following instructions
  • cannot finish schoolwork
  • has problem organizing tasks
  • avoid tasks that require effort
  • can be easily distracted
  • forget daily activities

A child with a symptom of a hyperactive and impulsive type:

  • twist the body from side to side in the seat
  • have difficulty staying seated calm
  • making noise constantly
  • run from one place to another place
  • climb on inappropriate places
  • have trouble playing quietly
  • blurts out an answer, interrupting the questioner
  • have difficulty waiting for turn

Although toddlers may have symptoms that sound like ADHD, it may be something else. That’s why you need a doctor to find out about it.

Related: Recognizing ADHD in Adults: Diagnosis and Treatment


A variety of recovery services are available, such as educational programmes, therapeutic intervention and opioid treatment. When the child has been diagnosed, the primary goal is to monitor the symptoms of ADHD and foster healthy behaviour. Learn as much about the choices as you can and talk to your child’s doctor to make the right decision for your child. Behavioral therapy can, however, help your child to replace inappropriate habits with new behaviours. Some of these treatments are:

  • behavior therapy
  • social skills training
  • parenting skills training
  • psychotherapy
  • family therapy
  • meal planning
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Some children can have adverse effects on the drug, making specific care inappropriate. If a child with ADHD also has depression or anxiety, it may be best to incorporate treatment with behavioural therapy. It is necessary to consult your doctor to find the best choice for your child.

Related: Practicable Natural Remedies for People With ADHD

Bottom Line

ADHD is a very common brain disorder in toddlers. If you are worried that your child might show signs of ADHD, tell your doctor. Although there is no cure for ADHD, medications, behavioural therapy, and lifestyle changes will help to relieve your child’s symptoms and improve the chances of success.

Related: What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?


Preschoolers and ADHD. CHADD.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Mayo Clinic.

Is it ADHD or Typical Toddler Behavior? Ten Early Signs of ADHD Risk in Preschool-Age Children. Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. NIMH.

Psychometric Properties of ADHD Symptoms in Toddlers. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2019.

ADHD in Preschool KidswebMD.

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Naeem Durrani BSc
Naeem is a freelance medical and nutrition writer. His interests include medical research, and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices, which empower people to transform their lives.

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