ADHD in Toddlers

Learn how to identify signs of ADHD in toddlers and ways to deal with challenging behavior, such as temper tantrums, toddler biting and hitting. Younger kids are learning so many new things about the world and their environment, which can often cause distracted behavior. Depending on toddler speech development, this will definitely influence whether there are meltdowns, selective attention, difficulty follow directions and/or poor listening skills.

I recommend starting with making sure they are getting the required amount of sleep for his/her age, because toddler sleep problems will definitely cause symptoms. My son had terrible hyperactivity and impulsivity when he was younger due to sleep difficulties. Once we solved those, a lot of his challenges decreased. When there is sleep deprivation, the body releases cortisol which creates a wired state, aka the second wind. The less they sleep the harder it becomes to sleep because of high cortisol levels in the body. 

Toddler milestones for talking indicate:  

  • Children aged 12-18 months old should have around 20 words that they might be able to say and understand.
  • Around 24 months old, a child will understand around 200 words.
  • Between ages 2 and 3, a child’s vocabulary will grow up to 300 words and a child may understand up to 900 words.

The number of words will vary in toddlers, but boys tend to acquire language later than girls and are often too busy to learn language concepts. So, while it may appear the there are symptoms of ADHD in toddlers, one possibility is that it may actually be more related to a delay in understanding speech. If they don't fully understand what is being said, then his/her listening skills will be delayed as well.

Imagine going to a foreign country after only spending a year studying the language. Most would probably only understand a couple words per sentence. Then taking into consideration the speed that a person typically speaks, you would have to register the meaning of what is being said very quickly. As a result, you might just choose not to pay attention because it's too difficult to comprehend.

Another possibility may be that they are having difficulties with sensory processing. One subtype of sensory processing disorder (SPD) is referred to as sensory seeking. It's symptoms can be very similar to those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, the causes of the two disorders are very different and therefore treatment is typically very different than SPD treatment.

I was almost certain that my oldest son would be diagnosed with this as he was one of the most hyperactive toddlers I had ever seen. It turned out to actually be a problem with sensory processing and the treatments we have applied, such as brushing, listening therapy, and a sensory diet, all made such a huge difference without the use of medications. He literally used to run in circles and then one day at church, an occupational therapist was nice enough to come over and ask me questions about him. After giving her some more information about him, she told me she was certain he probably was sensory seeking. I am forever grateful to her for helping me discover how to help him!

Tips to Help with Symptoms of ADHD in Toddlers:

  • Simple short sentences work best with toddlers.
  • It is extremely important for toddlers to follow a nutritious and healthy diet.
  • Follow a routine schedule so he/she knows what to expect. Use picture schedules if needed.
  • Put them on a sleep and nap schedule consistent each day. Bedtime should be between 6:30 and 8:00 pm.
  • Temper tantrums are normal in toddlers and do not indicate the disorder.

Diagnosing ADHD in toddlers is not usually common because developmentally, toddlers are in a stage that requires exploration and excitement in the world around them. As a result they may appear hyperactive and have difficulties paying attention because of the overload in sensory stimulation.

Once toddlers age to approximately 4 or 5 years old I think it is easier to determine whether there are more valid attention and hyperactive symptoms. It’s possible there may easily be symptoms of ADHD in toddlers, but because of these other factors and being so young, children are not typically diagnosed during this age range.

More pages with helpful information:

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Baby Center. Toddler Milestone:Talking. 3-15-10.