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What Age Can ADD Be Diagnosed in Children?

By M. Gideon Hoyle ; Updated June 13, 2017

ADD is an older term for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, a childhood condition distinguished by symptoms of hyperactive impulsivity or inattention that are severe enough to disrupt a child’s daily life. Different children manifest ADHD symptoms at different ages. However, in a large number of cases, notable signs of the syndrome appear between the ages of 3 and 6.

Understanding ADHD

Your child with ADHD may have symptoms mostly related to hyperactivity and impulsivity, according to MedlinePlus. He may also have symptoms mostly related to inattention, or have combined symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Common signs of hyperactivity include excessive talking, fidgeting or squirming and difficulty controlling noise levels. Common signs of impulsivity include blurted speech, impatience with turn-based games and conversation intrusions or interruptions. Common signs of inattention include forgetfulness during tasks, lack of responsiveness and quick distraction during activities.

Age and Diagnosis

Making an ADHD diagnosis can be quite challenging, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH. Some of this difficulty stems from the natural variations in temperament among young children, who have a broad range of personalities and energy levels when viewed as a whole. Diagnostic difficulties can also stem from the wide assortment of potential ADHD symptoms. Doctors can also have difficulty gauging the impact of behaviors that could be related to ADHD. Still, in most cases, your child will show signs of ADHD early in life, with some children showing signs as early as infancy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an official ADHD diagnosis requires the presence of at least some symptoms by the time your child turns 7.

Additional Criteria

Before your child receives an ADHD diagnosis, he must show symptoms for a period of at least six months, NIMH notes. His symptoms must also be worse than the average behaviors displayed by other children his age. In addition, ADHD symptoms must appear in a variety of social settings, such as school, home and the playground. Because of the relatively subtle nature of symptoms related to inattention, children with these symptoms have a greater chance of going undiagnosed.

Diagnosis Factors

Pediatricians and mental health professionals don’t diagnosis ADHD with a single, straightforward testing procedure, NIMH explains. Rather, they gather information from a variety of resources to get a full picture of a child’s behaviors and surroundings. Factors that a doctor will consider when diagnosing your child include his school and home environments, his school and medical histories, his stress levels, your observations regarding his behavior, the observations of his teachers, and the presence of other health problems that can mimic the effects of ADHD.

Diagnosing Younger Children

Doctors face another set of difficulties when diagnosing ADHD in preschoolers and other very young children, This is due largely to potential resemblances between ADHD symptoms and developmental delays in language or other areas. To overcome these problems, your child’s doctor may recommend that you get an evaluation from a specialist called a developmental pediatrician, or from a speech pathologist, psychiatrist or psychologist.

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