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AAP: Preschool-Aged Children Can Now Be Diagnosed With ADHD


Children as young as age 4 can now be officially diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to new guidelines released by The American Academy of Pediatrics. The new report recommends behavior modification therapy as the first line of defense for preschoolers diagnosed with ADHD, with prescription medications like Ritalin to be tried at a low dose only if therapy is not effective on its own.

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Up until now, the AAP only provided guidelines for ADHD diagnosis starting at age 6, when most children begin first grade. What's behind the change in thinking? Emerging evidence now makes it possible to diagnose and manage ADHD sooner. “Treating children at a young age is important, because when we can identify them earlier and provide appropriate treatment, we can increase their chances of succeeding in school,” said Mark Wolraich, MD, FAAP, and chairperson of the committee that authored the report. “An earlier diagnosis will help decrease stress on the family, and prevent affected children from getting the message from an early age that they’re 'bad' kids.”

ADHD, previously known as ADD, is the U.S.’s most common childhood mental disorder; currently 8 percent of all U.S. kids, which translates to about 5 million, have been diagnosed. It is a neurological condition that causes a child to lose focus and behave in ways that may make it difficult to successfully participate in school, social and family life. Children with ADHD can be inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive, and many have a combination of these behaviors. The new guidelines are an attempt to give evidence-based, specific recommendations for what some pediatricians are already doing unofficially: using Ritalin and other stimulants off-label to treat small kids with problems severe enough to get them expelled from preschool and wreak havoc on their families.

Plus: The Growing Trends of Preschoolers on Psychiatric Medications