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When Does ADHD Typically Get Diagnosed?

Your toddler is bouncing off the walls. Should you worry about ADHD? What about your six-year-old, who can’t stop talking to let her teacher teach?

How early can we diagnose ADHD? And, typically, at what ages are children generally diagnosed? Before answering this question, we need to clarify a few ADHD facts.

How to Recognize ADHD in Early Child Development

Firstly, while most people who aren’t ADHD professionals associate ADHD with hyperactivity and wildness, the disorder actually affects a much wider range of behaviors. At its core, it’s an executive functioning disorder, affecting skills from planning and organization to self-control and emotional regulation.

It used to be that only the overactive, out-of-control children received the diagnosis of ADHD. Those who struggled with executive function issues like inattention, distractibility, disorganization, etc. but didn’t show hyperactive behavior received the separate diagnosis of “ADD.”

More recently, mental health authorities have determined ADHD and ADD to be two different varieties  of the same executive functioning disorder, where hyperactivity can present either in external behavior or simply in internal brain function.

Now, children with relevant symptoms receive one of three diagnoses: “ADHD – predominantly hyperactive-impulsive,” “ADHD – predominantly inattentive,” or “ADHD – combined presentation.”

Finding the Right ADHD Diagnosis

Predictably, children with the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation get diagnosed much earlier than their quieter counterparts. In severe cases, they might receive a diagnosis at age 4. With milder cases, however, ADHD professionals typically wait till at least age 5. It’s normal for toddlers and preschoolers to have boundless energy and constantly be “on the go.” Only when a child hits kindergarten age, and they’re expected to function on a normal level in the more disciplined framework of school, can most ADHD professionals confidently distinguish the truly hyperactive-impulsive kids from the typically energetic ones.

Those with “ADD,” or predominantly inattentive ADHD, usually get diagnosed much later. Quiet and complicit, these children don’t call the same level of attention to themselves. Teachers will notice their lack of focus or poor organizational skills, and their resultant academic failures, but they typically won’t expend as much effort dealing with those issues as they do with a disruptive “class clown.” Many parents, teachers, counselors, etc., aren’t aware that such issues potentially point to ADHD, so they don’t seek an ADHD assessment.

Often, it takes the rigors of high school or even college to exacerbate inattentive children’s struggles until they feel driven to seek professional help. If they’re very academically inclined and get plenty of parent and teacher support, they often make it through school without reaching that level of desperation. Only when their functioning struggles start impacting their adult life – work, household responsibilities, relationships, etc. – do they finally seek help. And even then, they might spend many years searching until they hit upon the proper diagnosis.

How To Find ADHD Coaching After a Diagnosis

Whether they’re three or twenty-three, hyperactive or inattentive, your child’s ADHD can never be diagnosed by family members, teachers, or well-meaning friends. Only a medical doctor or qualified mental health professional can give your child an official diagnosis.

Also, regardless of your child’s age, ADHD can be treated and managed with tremendous success. For the right patient, the right medication – though not a complete solution on its own –  can make a tremendous difference. ADHD coaching, as well as other types of therapies and resources like ADHD parental help, can guide your child in developing the skills they’re missing, so they can fully maximize their potential.

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