ADHD

Updated 12 July 2017

How to spot ADHD in preschoolers

One out of 11 school-aged children is diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and up to 40% of those kids may display symptoms in preschool, an expert says.

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One out of 11 school-aged children is diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and up to 40% of those kids may display symptoms in preschool, an expert says.

Recognising and treating the disorder early is important because ADHD has a profound effect on learning and academic development, says Dr. Mark Mahone, director of the department of neuropsychology at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

"Children whose symptoms begin in early childhood are at the highest risk for academic failure and grade repetition," Mahone noted.

"Research shows that children with ADHD have abnormal brain development, meaning that ADHD has a biological basis that often makes it a lifelong condition," he added.

What to look out for

Parents should pay close attention to the behaviour of their young children, Mahone said. He added that in children aged three to four, the following behaviours are often associated with a diagnosis of ADHD by the time children reach school age:

  • Avoids or dislikes activities that require more than one to two minutes of concentration
  • Loses interest in activities after a few minutes
  • Talks a lot more and makes more noise than other children the same age
  • Climbs on things despite being told not to
  • Unable to hop on one foot by the age of four
  • Almost always restless and insists on getting up after being seated for only a few minutes
  • Acts fearless, which results in dangerous situations
  • Warms up to strangers too quickly
  • Behaves aggressively with friends
  • Has been injured after moving too fast or running after being told to slow down.

"If parents observe these symptoms and have concerns about their child's development, they should consult with their paediatrician or another developmental expert," said Mahone. "There are safe and effective treatments that can help manage symptoms, increase coping skills and change negative behaviours to improve academic and social success."

Using neuroimaging, Mahone and his colleagues recently found that children with ADHD have a smaller caudate nucleus (a small structure in the brain associated with thinking and motor control) than other children their age. They hope their research leads to earlier interventions for children with ADHD to improve educational outcomes.

The causes of ADHD aren't really known, although studies suggest that genes play a role. Scientists are also looking into whether brain injuries, diet and social environment contribute to the disorder.

Read more:

Diet for children with ADHD

ADHD kids are missing DNA

Can meditation help children combat ADHD?

 

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Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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