Your child is active, or your child doesn’t pay attention, or both. The teacher is concerned, or maybe its a coach or a caregiver. You’ve been told by friends that their kid was just the same and they outgrew it and you wonder, “Can children outgrow ADHD?” A recent study suggests that many preschool children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) do not outgrow their diagnosis. A study done by Sara Bufferd, et. al. , published in the November 2012 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry showed that 3 year olds with a diagnosis of ADHD had nearly 18 times the risk of having ADHD than normal 3 year olds when they were 6 years old. We know from studies of adult ADHD that symptoms present in children sometimes change, but may continue to be debilitating into the adult years.
Does this mean that we should be quicker to medicate the active child? Certainly not. The study used very strict criteria to diagnose ADHD. In real life, ADHD is probably both over and underdiagnosed by busy and poorly informed physicians and school personnel, so that some children are mislabeled as having ADHD when they do not have it. Some children with ADHD do truly outgrow their symptoms and many adults do not take medication. But parents of young children with possible ADHD should take the following steps:
1) Make sure your doctor does a thorough evaluation. Many doctors do not. Hearing and vision should be tested in the office, and formal testing with a machine should be done if you suspect there is a problem. You should push for testing for iron and zinc deficiency if your preschooler is a picky eater most of the time. If growth is a problem, also ask for thyroid screening. This may take some time, so keep up with the appointments because there may be a few.
2) Make sure you check up on sleep. Some children with allergies or big tonsils don’t sleep well because their breathing is blocked. You can tell there is trouble if you hear a lot of loud snoring. Not enough sleep can also cause symptoms of ADHD regardless of why the child doesn’t have enough sleep. Make sure your preschooler is getting at least 12 hours per day.
3) If the diagnosis is being brought up by a school teacher, ask for testing by a school psychologist to identify other possible causes for your child’s behavior. Not only can learning disabilities such as dyslexia cause a child to act as if they have ADHD, but children with ADHD often have other learning disabilities. Giftedness also can cause a child to act as if they have ADHD.
4) Get help for yourself. Even if your child doesn’t have ADHD, getting help with parenting techniques that work for kids with ADHD will probably help a kid without ADHD anyway. The main reason to get help is to help your child to develop effective coping skills and to prevent negative methods of coping, such as avoiding work, clowning, and blaming others. Ask your doctor for a referral to see a psychologist for parent training.
5) Make lifestyle changes. This is your excuse to get the whole family exercising more and eating more healthy–avoiding excessive sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors, salt, saturated fat, and emphasizing fruits and vegetables, fish, and low fat dairy. Though very few preschoolers with ADHD like behaviors respond to dietary changes, some do.
Bufferd, Sara, Lea R. Doughterty, Gabrielle A. Carlson, Suzanne Rose, and Daniel N. Klein. “Psychiatric Disorders in Preschoolers: Continuity from Ages 3 to 6.” American Journal of Psychiatry 169.11 (2012): 1157-164. Print.
Chervin, R. D., K. H. Archbold, J. E. Dillon, P. Panahi, K. J. Pituch, R. E. Dahl, and C. Guilleminault. “Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Symptoms of Sleep-Disordered Breathing.” Pediatrics 109.3 (2002): 449-56. Print.
Howard, A. L., M. Robinson, G. J. Smith, G. L. Ambrosini, J. P. Piek, and W. H. Oddy. “ADHD Is Associated with a “Western” Dietary Pattern in Adolescents.” Journal of Attention Disorders 15.5 (2011): 403-11. Print.
Millichap, J. G., and Michelle M. Yee. “The Diet Factor in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Pediatrics 129.2 (2012): 330-37. Print.